New Zealand great Mils Muliaina is tipping the resurgent All Blacks to target Australia’s young backline stars Carter Gordon and Mark Nawaqanitawase in the Bledisloe Cup cauldron at the MCG on Saturday.
Organisers are predicting a crowd in excess of 80,000 in the final home game for the Wallabies before the Rugby World Cup.
With a 0-2 start to his second coming as Wallabies coach, Eddie Jones is desperate to change the narrative with only games against the All Blacks in Dunedin and world No.2 France in Paris to follow before the World Cup kicks off.
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Gordon thrown into MCG cauldron
All Blacks coach Ian Foster has eased some of the immense pressure on his own shoulders by outclassing Argentina and South Africa in a dynamic start to 2023.
And Muliaina, who played 100 Tests for the All Blacks and won the 2011 World Cup, said Foster and respected attack coach Joe Schmidt would find some obvious areas to investigate on Melbourne’s iconic arena.
“They’ll respect the Australians,” Muliaina said on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven.
Gordon’s cracking try on debut
“But they’ll actually go out there and probably try and target some of their key players like Gordon. You know, he’s coming out there and we say he’s got no fear but they want to put them under pressure.
“They’ll want to go out a little bit wider to Mark and say: ‘well, can you defend?’
“And that’s the sort of stuff that us as Kiwis and as All Blacks look for, is how much pressure can you put on top of those guys to make sure they’re just a little bit off their game because it has a flow on effect to everyone else.”
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The Queensland product is a terrific and tough defender, compared by Jones to South Africa’s World Cup winner Butch James.
But the All Blacks might fancy their chances of finding pay out wide against Nawaqanitawase, Australia’s best player in the deflating loss to Argentina.
Nawaqanitawase has improved his defence in 2023 but it remains a work in progress as he prepares to face the fast feet of All Blacks winger Mark Telea.
“I think the tough thing for the two wingers for the Wallabies (Nawaqanitawase and Marika Koroibete), is we know what they can do in attack, but defensively, they’re going to have to mark up,” Wallabies legend Tim Horan said.
“Whether they come in and jam in because there’s going to be numbers outside. (All Blacks winger) Will Jordan is playing incredible rugby at the moment and (fullback Beauden) Barrett at the back, so hard to stop.”
Nawaqanitawase electrifies the crowd
There are five changes on the bench with Sam Whitelock, Anton Lienert-Brown, Cam Roigard, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Luke Jacobson coming in for Tupou Vaa’i, Braydon Ennor, Finlay Christie, Tamaiti Williams and Papali’i.
“What I like about the All Blacks, in their backline, they seem to just pick players out of position, they pick the best players and then just find a position for them.
“Barrett at fullback, Will Jordan plays on the wing and then (Jordie) Barrett at 12 as well. That combination 12, 13 with (Rieko) Ioane is looking pretty good,” Horan observed.
The All Blacks will also hand a first Test cap to Hurricanes halfback Cam Roigard, who has been named on the bench behind Aaron Smith.
“Through Super Rugby we all saw his growth,” Foster said.
“He likes to attack the edges, he’s got a good kicking game and a pretty consistent pass and he’s been really focused on how he fits that into the plan.”
WALLABIES (15-1): Andrew Kellaway, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Jordan Petaia, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Carter Gordon, Tate McDermott, Rob Valetini, Tom Hooper, Jed Holloway, Will Skelton, Nick Frost, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Dave Porecki, Angus Bell
Reserves: Jordan Uelese, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Richie Arnold, Rob Leota, Nic White, Quade Cooper, Izaia Perese
ALL BLACKS (15-1): Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Jordie Barrett, Mark Telea, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Ardie Savea (c), Dalton Papali’i, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Tyrel Lomax, Codie Taylor, Ethan de Groot
Reserves: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Luke Jacobson, Cam Roigard, Anton Lienert-Brown, Caleb Clarke
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
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