Rugby-Aggrieved Wallabies look for payback in Perth against All Blacks
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - An aggrieved Wallabies side forced to stew for three weeks after back-to-back defeats at Eden Park have vowed to hit back hard against the All Blacks on home soil when the teams clash in the second round of the Rugby Championship on Sunday.
Already hurting over the loss of the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand for a 19th successive year, Dave Rennie's Australia were incensed when the All Blacks cancelled their trip to Perth last month, citing uncertainty over the tournament's schedule amid COVID-19 outbreaks and restrictions.
Organisers were forced to postpone the sold-out match at Perth Stadium by a week, leaving Rennie "bloody angry" and his players stuck in Western Australia kicking their heels.
The Wallabies have said they scarcely need any reason to get worked up for Sunday's test, pointing to the 57-22 reverse in the last match at Eden Park as motivation enough.
But the All Blacks no-show is likely to add fuel to the fire at a venue where Australia dismantled the New Zealanders 47-26 in the leadup to the 2019 World Cup.
"I can assure you the team is hurting and we’re keen for a positive response on Sunday," Rennie told reporters in Perth on Friday.
After a "brutal" review of the Eden Park horror show, the Wallabies now look stronger on paper with a rejigged midfield anchored by the explosive Samu Kerevi.
The 33-test Kerevi was the Wallaby who got away after the World Cup, with Rugby Australia unable to compete with the Japanese money offered for the Fijian-born 27-year-old.
However, Rennie has brought him back as one of his two exemptions from the 'Giteau Law', the rule that bans overseas-based players with less than 60 test caps from representing Australia.
Kerevi will partner Len Ikitau in the midfield after having to get up to speed quickly on the team's playbook following his rugby sevens adventure at the Tokyo Olympics.
A baby boom has forced changes on both sides, with Wallabies centre Hunter Paisami and lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto leaving the squad and All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock, flyhalf Richie Mo'unga and Aaron Smith staying home for the births of their children.
Loose forward Ardie Savea will captain the All Blacks as they look to keep their perfect season alive with a sixth straight win following a 2-0 series sweep of Fiji and a one-off thrashing of Tonga in July.
Foster has opted for a triple Barrett assault in his starting 15, with Beauden starting at 10 in Mo'unga's place and his brothers Scott and Jordie starting at lock and fullback respectively.
Forced changes aside, Foster has resisted a major shake-up of the team that ruled Eden Park and demanded they maintain the same intensity to seal a 3-0 sweep of the Wallabies, having lost to them away in three of the last four seasons.
"Being surrounded by talk of dead rubbers and third Bledisloes and all those sort of words when you've already got the Cup in the trophy cabinet can lull you into a false sense of security," he told reporters on Friday.
"We don't want to have excuses ... We've been pretty black and white about that."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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