If Australia can’t seize its chance in Sydney on Saturday, the decade-plus run of futility against the All Blacks is likely to continue.
Hard as it is to believe, Wallaby legend Matt Burke was on the field the last time Australia won the Bledisloe Cup. “On the field” might be underselling it – Burke kicked the winning points in 16-14 result, one of the proudest moments of a distinguished career.
Both nations return to the scene of that victory in Homebush for the first Bledisloe Cup test of 2016. And while the Aussies get game one at home, the structure of this year’s series poses even more of a challenge. “From an Australian perspective, it’s imperative that the guys get off to a great start in Sydney,” Burke says. “Two of those games are over in New Zealand, and the third is a couple of months away – at Eden Park, where we haven’t won in a thousand years. And I contributed to some of those losses as well.”
Indeed, the Wallabies’ drought at Eden Park is even more severe – the nation’s last win was in 1986. And while the 3-0 series loss to England in June was sobering, Burke is hopeful that the return of the Wallabies’ France-based veterans can change the momentum for the team.
“These guys coming back from France add so much to the team in terms of experience. I think that’s where, hopefully, they’ll gain some advantage – understanding how to get around the park, when to run and when not to run the ball. That’s the advantage that a Giteau, Genia or Ashley-Cooper bring back into the team, to be able to make smarter choices around the park.”
Burke’s proud moment in 2002 has deepened in importance with time, and rather unfortunately. At the time of that win, the Wallabies had retained the Bledisloe for five straight years. The All Black dominance since has made winning our trans-Tasman rugby intramural one of the most desired prizes in Australian sport.
“Fourteen seasons we haven’t held the Cup,” Burke says. “I took a photo the other day at work of me sipping out of the Cup and saying I hadn’t seen my old buddy for a while. It’s the only time it comes to Australia now, it’s like a tourist visit. And you’ll see the boys not touch it – it’s one of those superstitions, if you haven’t won it, you can’t touch it.
“Over the last 13 seasons, they’ve watched these blokes with death stares – it got to the point in Wellington a couple of years ago where their team didn’t walk around [with the Cup]. It was the two debutants who took it around. The rest of them were like, been there, done that, just another win. That’s so infuriating.
“The joy of winning a Bledisloe is massive because you’re playing the best team in the world.”