WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Australia captain Michael Hooper has stuck to the party line and attempted to downplay the mystique surrounding Auckland’s Eden Park ahead of their second Bledisloe Cup test against New Zealand on Sunday.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie told reporters last week that the venue, considered the spiritual home of New Zealand rugby, was just another patch of grass and no different from any other in the world, something Hooper repeated on Saturday.
“It’s the same size oval as last week, it’s just in a different place,” Hooper said after his team’s final training run.
“But, it will be a full stadium,” he added of the expected sell-out crowd of 47,000 for the game. “It’s so exciting for our team. And a terrific challenge.”
The Wallabies, who trained without number eight Harry Wilson on Saturday as he recovered from a sleepless night due to what was thought to be a stomach bug, have reason to be quietly confident.
They secured a 16-16 draw last week in Wellington and are riding a wave of enthusiastic, if hubristic, support from Australia with renewed hopes of regaining the symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy.
Hooper, however, was right to inject some caution in his conference call with reporters.
Australia have not beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand since 2001, while the home side have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003.
New Zealand are also unbeaten at Eden Park, the venue for their 1987 and 2011 Rugby World Cup victories, since 1994 - a streak of 43 matches.
The last time the Wallabies beat the All Blacks at the ground was in 1986.
New Zealand has also scored more than 30 points in each of the last five games against the Wallabies at Eden Park, with those matches often the week after a poor performance from the All Blacks.
“It’s never lost on us, this fixture,” Hooper said.
“The Kiwis have been the benchmark for so long. They’ve set the standard.
“And we get to play them at home. I’m pretty amped for it.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan
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