Introduced in 1931, the Bledisloe Cup is named after New Zealand’s governor-general, Lord Bledisloe, who donated the huge silver trophy. It is contested by New Zealand and Australia and is the pinnacle of trans-Tasman sport.
While the Bledisloe Cup is now an annual series of anything between two to four matches in duration, depending on whether it falls in a Rugby World Cup year or not, it wasn’t until 1982 that the two countries agreed to contest the trophy on a yearly basis.
Overall, the All Blacks have been the dominant force with 48 Bledisloe Cup titles to Australia’s 12 – including the last 18 in a row.
Here are 15 facts about a competition that has cultivated one of the greatest rivalries in the sport.
1. First winners
Australia won the first three matches against New Zealand, but it was the All Blacks who came out on top in the inaugural Bledisloe Cup encounter, with burly full-back Ron Bush kicking four penalties and a conversion in a 20-13 win in Auckland. Bush went on to coach the All Blacks in the 1960s.
2. Wallabies up and running
Australia won the title for the first time in 1934, beating New Zealand 25-11 in Sydney. Once again, a full-back played a prominent role in the victory – in this case, Wallaby number 15, Alec Ross, who not only captained the side but kicked three penalties and converted two tries.
3. The stuff of legend
Can there have been a more famous tackle in rugby than George Gregan’s try-saving effort on All Blacks winger Jeff Wilson at the Sydney Football Ground in 1994? For all the money it looked like Wilson was destined to score but Gregan came flying across and threw everything he had into the tackle to force his opponent into touch fractionally short of the line. Australia went on to win 20-16.
4. New frontiers
The Hong Kong Stadium hosted the first contest between Australia and New Zealand at a neutral ground outside of a Rugby World Cup when the fourth and final test of an extended series was played there in 2008. The following year the Bledisloe Cup moved to Tokyo in a further bid to promote the sport in Asia.
5. Millennium magic
Both teams played their part in a fabulous occasion fit for a world record crowd of 109,874 at Sydney in 2000. Jeremy Paul’s try in the corner looked to have secured the Wallabies a famous comeback victory after they had recovered from a 24-0 deficit, but Jonah Lomu and New Zealand had other ideas, with the giant winger’s stoppage-time score resulting in a 39-35 win for the visitors. A match for the ages!
6. Historic low for ABs
New Zealand went from 1998 to 2002 without the Cup, the longest period that the All Blacks have gone without holding the trophy, including losing eight of 11 matches to Australia, their worst record against any team over an 11-match run, at any point in history.
7. Long time between drinks
Australia last tasted Bledisloe success in 2002, which was actually their fifth title in a row. Matt Burke slotted a match-winning penalty after the siren sounded to give his side a 16-14 win in Sydney. None of the current Wallabies squad have ever got their hands on the coveted trophy.
8. Signing off in style
As international send-offs go, John Eales’ was pretty special. With seconds left on the clock in his 86th and final cap, Australia were staring at defeat in Sydney in 2001 until number eight Totai Kefu used every centimetre of his powerful frame to reach out and score the matchwinner by the post.
9. All Blacks near try landmark
New Zealand scored their 400th try in the fixture last year, when Jordie Barrett crossed for an early score at Sky Stadium in October. The All Blacks now have 414 tries in 149 Bledisloe Cup outings, while the Wallabies have managed 241.
10. Giving it some Welly
The All Blacks’ biggest winning margin in a Bledisloe Cup match is 37 points (a 43-6 win in Wellington in 1996). The margin would have been even greater had Andrew Mehrtens converted more than two of his side’s six tries. The three-time world champions fell one point short of matching the record in winning 36-0 at Eden Park in Auckland in 2019.
11. Australia come of age … twice
Australia’s 47-26 win in Perth two years ago – their highest-ever score against the All Blacks in 165 tests – also saw them equal their biggest winning margin (21) in the fixture. Matt Burke’s 23 points from seven penalties and a conversion had helped set the original landmark in Sydney in 1999 as the Wallabies ran out 28-7 winners.
12. Richie pickings
Dual Rugby World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw has made the most Bledisloe Cup appearances with 34, and more surprisingly, he tops the all-time try-scoring charts with 11, at a rate of roughly one in every three encounters.
The record for most tries in a match by an individual player is four and is shared by a player from each side – Greg Cornelsen for Australia and Beauden Barrett for New Zealand. Eden Park in Auckland was the venue on each occasion.
14. Points machine
Dan Carter is streets ahead of his nearest rival in terms of Bledisloe Cup points scored. His tally of 347 is 145 more than his nearest rival and fellow All Black, Andrew Mehrtens.
15. Red cards in short supply
Prior to 2020, only two players had been sent off in a Bledisloe Cup fixture – Drew Mitchell was the first in 2010 (for two yellow cards), while Scott Barrett became only the fourth All Blacks player to be shown a red card in a test in Perth in 2019. However, Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Lachlan Swinton were both sent off in the final Bledisloe Cup match of 2020 to double the number of players who have seen red in the fixture.