Craig Dowd
Wallabies represent a real threat for the All Blacks
Craig Dowd
August 13, 2014
The All Blacks are ready to rumble once again © Getty Images

New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Tony Woodcock hold the Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand v Australia, Bledisloe Cup, The Rugby Championship, Westpac Stadium, Wellington, August 24, 2013
New Zealand have held the Bledisloe Cup for 12 years © Getty Images

I think the Australians represent a real threat for the All Blacks in Sydney this weekend, given their form in Super Rugby; not just New South Wales Waratahs, but the Brumbies as well. They have shown some good form this year, and you can throw Western Force in there as well. Australian rugby is on the rise, and they are coming into the Bledisloe Cup with a bit of confidence.

I've discussed the series with some of the players from my generation, and I know the Australians are desperate to get the Bledisloe Cup back - and this is the year the whole country is focusing on the real opportunity they sense to get it back. It's been a long time locked up in the New Zealand trophy cabinet.

But the All Blacks are still a world-class side; they're unbeaten in 17 Tests, and given where they've been, how they improved through that England series, and all the talk coming out of the camp, we are in for a hell of a game. The All Blacks' Test against South Africa at Ellis Park last year was brilliant, and I am expecting something similar on Saturday.

This is the biggest game the All Blacks will face outside the Rugby World Cup, and I think they should treat this like a World Cup final; if Australia win, it is all on for the Bledisloe. But also, given the importance of a possible world record for the All Blacks in consecutive victories, they shouldn't sweep that under the carpet or shy away from it. They need to step up; rather than go into their shell, they should look forward to it and treat it like a do-or-die, all-or-nothing Test match. Both teams have everything to play for, and I am expecting nothing short of a fantastic Test match.

If there is one trophy the All Blacks treasure, it is the Bledisloe Cup; and I am sure the Australians respect it as much. We're neighbours, Anzacs together, and it is a great piece of silverware, whoever holds it. The two teams have been in the top three in the world for a long, long time, and nothing has changed over the years in the intensity of Bledisloe contests.

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My fourth Test match was a Bledisloe Cup game in 1993. Coming off the three Tests we had played against the British & Irish Lions, the emotion surrounding winning the Cup back after it had been lost in 1992 was hit home to me. Back then it was easier to get hold of than it is now, as it was up for grabs in one-off Tests. Now in two or three matches a season, the challenger has to win two games to claim it.

The desire to get the cup back in 1993 was absolutely huge. We couldn't have asked for a tougher series to prepare us than the Lions gave us. It primed us and we were ready for the Aussies. Being a youngster, that Test at Carisbrook was important in hitting home to me just what winning the Bledisloe meant. The following year, we were on the receiving end in Sydney when the George Gregan tackle denied Jeff Wilson a try and we had to leave the cup there. But we got it back after the World Cup in 1995.

Then, in what was to be my final Test, at Westpac Stadium in Wellington 2000, I came off the bench, all hyped up and operating at a level where I was just running around.

Stephen Larkham reflects on his Bledisloe Cup memories

I'll never forget the penalty I gave away in the dying seconds of the game. I saw the ball was out of the back of the ruck and instinctively dived on it. Had I had the luxury of being on the field a lot longer, and having settled into the game, I would have realised it was a case of "defend, defend" and run the clock down. But because I had come off the bench, I was operating at a higher level and saw the ball loose: it was a stupid act that cost us the game and the cup.

It was something that was absolutely devastating, and to have to go through that and see John Eales step up and kick the goal was a very, very dark moment in my career. It was my last act as an All Black. The headlines weren't kind, and even to this day I get people walking up to me in the street saying they will never forgive me for giving that penalty away. That's the importance of the Bledisloe Cup. I still wake up in the middle of the night to say, "I wish I hadn't done that".

John Eales kicked the match-winning penalty in Wellington © Getty Images

John Eales was swamped by Wallabies team-mates to show how much Bledisloe victory means © Getty Images

Sometimes you can get a team talk from an unexpected source.

Australia wing David Campese, November 1 1992
David Campese 'got under our skin slightly', Craig Dowd says © Getty Images

David Campese did that for us in 1996 in the first Tri Nations Test, played at Athletic Park in Wellington. He talked up how the Aussies were going to run around the All Blacks and wipe us off the park. He got under our skin slightly. The outcome of that was one of my more favourable Bledisloe Cup memories as we played near-on perfect with hardly any mistakes on a dreadful day.

The Bledisloe is going to be won up front, just like it always is. But Australia have a great backline; they always do.

For Australia to succeed, they need to have the all-important self-belief that they are capable. In past years, I don't think there has been the belief that they can come and take the Bledisloe ; but this year, I think for the first time in a long time there is more self-belief within the Australians, and knowing the Australian mentality they just won't give up.

They'll keep coming at you right until the 80th minute. Not only do the All Blacks have to weather the storm, they have to prepare themselves for a different Australian team coming at them. When I say different, these guys are not going to give up.

I remember the first game in 2000, the greatest game of them all when we won with Jonah Lomu tip-toeing down the sideline for the winning try. That after we had gone ballistic at the start of the game to lead 24-0 before the Aussies came back at us. It was unbelievable the way they never gave up.

They are hungry and there is a nation behind them saying, "Guys, it's time".

The Wallabies retained the Bledisloe Cup in 2000 © Getty Images
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