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Bledisloe just a step in World Cup preparation: Gregan
Brittany Mitchell
June 25, 2014
The Wallabies had much to celebrate against France; now for New Zealand © Getty Images
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The next 500 days are about preparations for the Rugby World Cup, but the next two months for the Wallabies are also about trying to win back the Bledisloe Cup. And sitting on seven consecutive wins, having swept France in their three-Test series, and boasting a rare depth of talent, the Wallabies are ready for their next challenges on the road to the 2015 Rugby World Cup; win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002, and win The Rugby Championship for the first time.

"It would be great to win [the Bledisloe Cup] back," George Gregan told ESPN in an exclusive interview during the Land-Rover Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.

New Zealand: age does not weary them

  • The All Blacks head into the 2015 Rugby World Cup with some of the most experienced rugby players in the world. Richie McCaw is but five Tests from becoming the most capped All Blacks player in history, and he is surrounded by fellow Test centurions Keven Mealamu, Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock, leading some pundits to wonder if the squad is aging too quickly to win in England. But former Wallabies captain George Gregan doesn't confuse experience for aging.
  • "I wouldn't call them an aging squad at all," Gregan said. "I'd like to do my numbers on that, look at the average age. I think most winning teams across a lot of sports the average age is up around the 27-mark; it's not going lower, it's going higher. It's just a matter of managing it; they've got some good young players coming through, like Aaron Smith and Cruden.
  • "They've played a number of Test matches now, they're two or three years into it, and a guy like Cruden just started, broke into the All Blacks, just by chance, really because of injury in the World Cup to Dan Carter. So I think you need those experienced hard-heads who've got that experience within the arena, and you need those other younger players coming through to drive the enthusiasm and the energy to get through a tough tournament."

"We've been talking about it for a while now, but I'd just be a bit quiet. We've been saying it, we go down this path [every year], I think it's just quietly, quietly. I think the All Blacks just like winning. It doesn't matter what they're playing for, they like to win it.

"So you know we're going to have to go out there and earn it through really good performances. Any time you beat the All Blacks, it has to be a really good performance; they're going to have to do that twice throughout the year, and that's going to be a challenge, but that's what you play Test match rugby for."

The campaign to win back the Bledisloe Cup, end the All Blacks' record-breaking winning streak, and claim their first Rugby Championship title will provide a strong indicator of the Wallabies' standing, and whether they will be ready for the World Cup, but Gregan sees the tournament merely as a step forward in preparations for next year.

Important for Wallabies to beat All Blacks and Springboks this year, George Gregan
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"Not winning the Rugby Championship - it's not the be all and end all," Gregan said. "New Zealand won the last World Cup, but I don't know how many of the Rugby Championships or the Tri-Nations [they won] in the lead up to '99 and 2003. So it's important, but it's not the gauge defining who's going to win the World Cup. The World Cup comes down to basically seven weeks; playing well at the right end of that tournament basically decides who's going to become the world champion.

"But playing those teams [New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina], it would be great to get victories across the teams throughout the year. It would be great to get victories across those teams in their own home country as well: if you can play well at home, that's one thing; but if you can take your game away and win, that takes your belief within the team to another level - which I think would be great for the Wallaby team going into the World Cup being played away from home."

Rugby World Cup 2015: Pool of Death

  • Much has been made of the fact that Australia have been drawn alongside England and Wales in the "Pool of Death" at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, but 1999 World Cup winner George Gregan believes the depth of the group will advantage the teams that emerge for the knockout stage of the tournament.
  • "I think the teams that come through that Pool of Death, and hopefully Australia will be one of them - I'm confident they will be - they'll be match hardened going into the quarter-finals and onwards, and really the tournament starts at that quarter-finals stage."
  • Many rugby fans and pundits in Australia and New Zealand were surprised by the strength of England's challenge against the All Blacks, particularly in the first two Tests. But not Gregan.
  • "I've been impressed by England, definitely.
  • "The English team, they've played a lot together throughout the first part of the year, during the Six Nations, guys coming off a long end of season, but they were actually probably in a better shape playing together than the All Blacks, so that didn't surprise me.
  • And he believes Wales will be tough opponents despite their disappointing record against Australia: the Wallabies have won the past nine Tests between the sides, including the third-place play-off at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but the past eight victories have been tight single-figure wins and Gregan says "Wales in Wales is another animal".
  • "When they're playing in front of 75,000 people at Millennium Stadium, it's definitely their 16th player on the field. The challenge when you play them there is you've just got to try and keep them quiet so they've got nothing to cheer about, because it just gives them a huge boost; and that will be a massive challenge.
  • "Playing England in Twickenham will be the same sort of challenge, but if you're going to win a World Cup, you've got to win in those arenas, you've got to beat those teams and face those scenarios and overcome them."

New Zealand came away from their Test series against England with a clean sweep, and continued their unbeaten run to 17, but Gregan was surprised by their errors during the first two Tests and believes the Wallabies will be able to pounce on some of their perceived weaknesses.

"I wasn't too shocked by the first Test because there's always a bit of rust going into your first Test match; you haven't played in seven months... I expected the All Blacks not to make as many fundamental errors as they did, in the first Test and in the second, which they did, and maybe that's through just a bit of pressure but also just some good play from England.

"Through this Test series, we've just seen ways to sort of curtail the way the All Blacks normally play in Test matches. They like to start fast and impose the way you're going to play the 80 minutes, and if you can stop them from doing that - they're just like any normal human beings, they'll struggle. But they find a way to win which is just something you can expect from a great team.

"But every time you play a team, particularly a team like the All Blacks, you're going to be challenged and there's ways to beat any team; the All Blacks are no different in that regard, but it's always a massive effort required from the entire group to get the job done."

Gregan believes the new-look Wallabies squad now will need to square away the little things in the eight weeks ahead of the Rugby Championship-opening Test, which he says will be among their biggest challenges of the year.

"They've just got to be consistent with their performance individually, and their basics of the game just need to be really strong because that's what gets tested and they're the things that kind of unravel a bit under pressure; in those big games - in particular World Cups - it's all about pressure and dealing with it, like no other tournament. So you want your nuts and bolts of your game to be really strong."

Land-Rover Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour: G'day, Bill, and farewell ... now for Fiji

Land-Rover is proud to be a worldwide partner of Rugby World Cup 2015 and a presenting partner of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour. Follow @LandRoverRugby on Twitter for exclusive video, imagery and insights from around the rugby world.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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