WELLINGTON, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Already under pressure to stave off yet another Bledisloe Cup series defeat, Australia have their backs to the wall ahead of Saturday’s clash against the All Blacks at Eden Park as concerns grow about their direction heading into next year’s World Cup.
The All Blacks have held the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy, since they won it back from the Wallabies in 2003 and have one hand on it again following a 38-13 victory in the first match last week in Sydney.
The world champions enter the Rugby Championship game (0735 GMT), which doubles as the second match in the Bledisloe series, as firm favourites, though they have had to make two injury-enforced changes with inside centre Ryan Crotty (concussion) and Rieko Ioane (hamstring) ruled out.
Despite the clinical demolition of the Wallabies in Sydney, particularly in the second half, Steve Hansen’s side felt they had not produced anywhere near the performance they wanted and had worked to improve this week.
If the Wallabies are to stand any chance of winning they must make significant improvements from the game in Sydney, a defeat that sparked an outpouring of frustration in Australia, as well as calls for coach Michael Cheika’s head.
“Surely Cheika cannot survive,” prominent Australian rugby journalist Greg Growden wrote on ESPN this week.
“If Rugby Australia is serious about a productive 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign as well as regaining the faith of thousands of disenchanted Wallabies supporters, they must get rid of Cheika, and all of his backup coaching and managerial staff now.
“Not at the end of the year, or after the World Cup. Right now.”
The Wallabies did manage to put the All Blacks under pressure at times last week but were dominated in contact and could not stop the counterattack.
Their scrum was constantly shunted backwards and the lineout disintegrated with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick stealing seven of their throws.
They will also be without their most potent attacking threat in fullback Israel Folau, who has scored 12 test tries since the beginning of 2017, six more than any other Wallabies player.
Folau injured his ankle when he fell awkwardly after an aerial contest on Saturday.
The Wallabies will also have to overcome history if they are to win on Saturday. They have not beaten the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1986, a run of 17 matches.
The world champions are unbeaten at their Auckland fortress in 41 games, winning 39 and drawing two there since 1994. “We need to be in contention for the Bledisloe, so we need to do everything we can to make sure we get the win,” Wallabies hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau told reporters this week.
“Although we haven’t won there (since 1986), it’s an even bigger challenge being 1-0 down in the series.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford