Israel Folau has compared the hype surrounding the Bledisloe Cup to that of State of Origin rugby league and ranks getting his first win over the All Blacks as one of the biggest challenges of his glittering career.
Folau enjoyed plenty of success at club, Origin and Test level as a league player and last week was part of the first NSW Waratahs team to win a Super Rugby title.
The dual international faced the world champion All Blacks three time in his first season in rugby last year and was on the losing side each time.
“It (the challenge) is definitely right up there with what I’ve experienced in my career so far,” said Folau, five days before the Wallabies’ first Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship match of the year in Sydney.
“You want to play against the best and they’ve been the best for a long time so those are the teams you want to challenge yourself (against).”
Folau can expect to be named at fullback on Tuesday in a side that will have at least two changes to the one that completed a three-Test whitewash against France back in June.
Nathan Charles is tipped to get a first Test start at hooker following an injury suffered by Tatafu Polota-Nau in the Super final.
Pat McCabe is expected to come in on the wing for Nick Cummins following the announcement of his signing to play in Japan.
Queensland Reds rake Saia Faingaa was called into camp on Monday after an injury to Tolu Latu further depleted Australia’s thinning hooking stocks.
Latu was forced out of the squad after breaking an arm in a Sydney club game on the weekend.
He joins Australia’s two most senior hookers Stephen Moore and Polota-Nau on the casualty list.
Faingaa has played 29 Tests, though only seven as a starter, while Charles earned his first two caps off the bench in the recent series against France.
James Hanson, the other hooker previously named in the squad, who could be the back-up on Saturday, made his only Test appearance as a substitute against the All Blacks in 2012.
Prop Sekope Kepu was confident Charles and Hanson had the goods to take on the formidable New Zealand pack despite their lack of international experience.
“It’s not like you’re pulling guys that haven’t played at Super Rugby level and guys like Hanson and Charles played massive amounts of games this year and credit to them they’ve played really well,” said Kepu.
“It’s their chance to step up to the plate.
“I’ve no doubt they are looking forward to soaking up the occasion and taking the opportunity.”
Kepu wouldn’t be surprised if the All Blacks targeted Charles.
“I’m sure they will look at that and as much as they might focus on us, our focus is on ourselves,” Kepu said.
“It’s all about challenges and I’m sure the pack is up for this weekend. We’re pretty excited.”