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New eras for Australia, New Zealand as test rugby returns

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    Reuters

Wellington, New Zealand   /   Fri, October 9, 2020   /   03:20 pm
New eras for Australia, New Zealand as test rugby returns Altogether: New Zealand's rugby players huddle during the captain's run at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on June 22, ahead of the All Blacks' rugby union Test match against France. (AFP/Marty Melville)

Trans-Tasman rugby will enter a new era on Sunday as New Zealand host Australia in their Bledisloe Cup match, which is also the first test to be played since the novel coronavirus shutdown in March.

The match, however, will not only be played in the shadow of the coronavirus but also of an ugly row between Rugby New Zealand and Rugby Australia over the future of Super Rugby and scheduling for 2020 Rugby Championship matches.

On the field, both All Blacks coach Ian Foster and Wallabies counterpart Dave Rennie have brought in a raft of new faces for their first games in charge as they look to the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Foster's first team was largely predictable but he named three uncapped players - winger Caleb Clarke, loose forward Hoskins Sotutu and lock Tupou Vaa'i on the bench for the clash at Wellington Regional Stadium.

"It shows we've got faith in our squad," Foster told reporters. "We know this is a year we're going to need that."

Rennie named four debutants with winger Filipo Daugunu, centre Hunter Paisami and loose forward Harry Wilson all starting while flyhalf Noah Lolesio is on the bench.

At the other end of the spectrum, captain Michael Hooper will become the 12th player to win 100 test caps for Australia.

While both counties were able to organise domestic Super Rugby competitions it is likely there will be some rustiness, with neither having played since last year's World Cup in Japan.

Rennie said the coronavirus had meant his major coaching challenge had been embedding game plans as they dealt with limited preparation time, most of it in bio-secure facilities in Christchurch, and working on their defence.

"The ability of the All Blacks is to score in a heartbeat, or score twice in five minutes," Rennie said.

"You're going to have to defend really well, and you're going to have to defend for long passages and we'll need to be really aggressive."