Sports

Pressure on Foster as Australia assault Eden Park fortress

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union – New Zealand Press Conference – The Lensbury, London, Britain – November 6, 2018 New Zealand assistant head coach Ian Foster during a press conference Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

By Greg Stutchbury

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – All Blacks coach Ian Foster‘s position could be fatally undermined after only two games if New Zealand fall to Australia in the second Bledisloe Cup test on Sunday at their spiritual home of Eden Park, where they are unbeaten since 1994.

A wave of criticism swept over Foster after the All Blacks scraped a 16-16 draw in the first test against a resurgent Wallabies last Sunday in Wellington, a true baptism of fire for the former assistant to Steve Hansen.

On Sunday, the All Blacks will not only be protecting their 26-year unbeaten record in front of a partisan 47,000 crowd at Eden Park but also a 34-year, 19-match winning streak against the Wallabies at the Auckland ground.

Australia‘s last win in 1986 earned them the Bledisloe Cup and another on Sunday would put them in the driving seat as the series shifts across the Tasman Sea for a Rugby Championship now reduced to three teams by South Africa’s withdrawal.

“We’re hurting and that’s the way it should be,” Foster, whose elevation to the top job in New Zealand rugby has not been met with universal approval, told reporters on Friday.

“I love these weeks. These are the weeks that there’s a real edge around the camp. We have to respond and we’re excited about that.”

Foster admitted his side were a little passive last week but has not shaken up his team too much for the second game.

He made just four changes with experienced lock Sam Whitelock still battling concussion problems and replaced by rookie Tupou Vaa’i.

Centre Rieko Ioane, who botched a certain try with a cavalier finish in Wellington, was dropped to the bench with Anton Lienert-Brown linking with Jack Goodhue in the midfield.

New Australia coach Dave Rennie is well aware the All Blacks rarely play badly in successive matches and that last year the Wallabies were thumped 36-0 at Eden Park a week after posting a record 47-26 victory over the All Blacks in Perth.

“We know they’re going to be a lot better,” the New Zealander said after making two changes to his starting line-up on Friday.

“I was just rapt with the attitude and the character the boys showed under a lot of heat last week. We need to see that again.”

Rennie brought Ned Hanigan into the back row in place of Pete Samu and dropped Folau Fainga’a in favour of Brandon Paenga-Amosa as Australia continues its search for a hooker who can throw straight consistently.

Talented young centre Jordan Petaia has recovered from a hip injury and takes his place on the bench as the Wallabies continue their quest to win a trophy they last held in 2003.

(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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