TOKYO, Japan, Oct 22 – New Zealand will be aiming to inflict a Bledisloe Cup whitewash on struggling Australia and lay down a marker for next year’s World Cup when the fierce trans-Tasman rivals face off in Japan at the weekend.
Hooker Codie Taylor warned Monday that the world champion All Blacks had their sights set on completing a series sweep after taking an unassailable 2-0 lead with victories in Sydney and Auckland.
New Zealand slipped up last year after beating the Wallabies in the first two Bledisloe Tests. “Our challenge is to win all three,” Taylor told reporters before Saturday’s clash in Yokohama.
The front-row forward cautioned against underestimating Australia, who lost six of eight games this season before an astonishing 45-34 comeback win over Argentina in Salta this month eased the pressure on coach Michael Cheika.
“It’s the Wallabies — they may have lost some games in the Rugby Championship but when they play us they back themselves to beat us.”
New Zealand will be chasing a World Cup hat-trick in 2019. “We’re aware of the fact that the World Cup is in Japan next year,” Taylor said.
“It’s a great chance to experience the culture and having the Test in a different country adds a little element of excitement.”
New Zealand face the 2019 World Cup hosts Japan in Tokyo on November 3 before flying to Europe to complete their five-match tour against England, Ireland and Italy.
“You feel like a king when you walk around,” said Taylor, describing the All Blacks fever triggered by their arrival in Japan.
“The food is amazing — hopefully we don’t blow out in the next week or two.
– Get ‘stuck in’ –
“But since last night the boys have switched into normal Test mode to face an Aussie team that will be up for the challenge,” Taylor added. “I’m just looking forward to getting stuck into them again.”
One man who will relish the battle with the All Blacks is Sekope Kepu, who is set to play his 100th game for the Wallabies — the first Australian prop to reach the milestone.
“I’m hanging in there,” he said after training.
“I’m really humbled to still be around. You only have to look at the centurions who’ve played for the Wallabies — legends of the game,” added Kepu.
“But I’m trying not to think about it too much — it’s another chance to represent Australia and you never know when it’s your last.”
Japanese rugby fans swoon at New Zealand’s fearsome “haka”, but Sam Whitelock put a spiritual spin on its significance to the All Blacks when asked by local journalists.
“I’m just a skinny white boy so I’m normally hiding down the back,” smiled the towering lock.
“The cool thing about the haka is the tradition that’s gone with it. The All Blacks performed it for over a hundred years. People think we do it for intimidation — but for us it’s to connect with ourselves, our team mates and the people that have gone before.”