The Tri Nations will be decided this weekend when the Wallabies host the All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. After their trips to South Africa the two sides enter this fixture in contrasting form. Australia enjoyed a 14-9 win over the Springboks two weeks ago, while a shuffled All Blacks line-up lost 18-5 last Saturday.
Many pundits are talking up the fact that the Wallabies will be relishing playing at Suncorp Stadium. Suncorp witnessed the Reds win the Super Rugby title this season and the Wallabies boast an impressive 15-3 record on the ground. Ominously for Australia, however, is the fact that all three losses – in 1996, 2006 and 2008 – have all been against New Zealand. In fact, the All Blacks have yet to lose to the Wallabies on this ground. The last Test at Suncorp Stadium in 2008 was a tight affair, with the All Blacks coming out victorious 28-24.
It’s hard to gain much insight into recent form based on the South Africa fixtures. Interestingly, while the two sides had contrasting fortunes, both managed to keep the Springboks try-less. The Wallabies certainly played a rustier Springboks side than New Zealand, but they will have taken positives from their ability to fight back in that game. They also showed improved physicality, which was missing in their 30-14 loss to the All Blacks earlier in the month.
Word across the ditch is that the All Blacks will be looking to assert their dominance at scrum time against the Wallabies. Their shuffled forward pack was given a working over last week, and they will be keen to reassert their forward supremacy ahead of the World Cup.
All Blacks Squad
Manager Graham Henry has continued to make squad changes as he works out his preferred XV for the World Cup. Piri Weepu will start at halfback with Andy Ellis on the bench and Jimmy Cowan rested. Sam Whitelock will start ahead of Ali Williams at lock while Adam Thompson takes the place of Jerome Kaino, who is also being rested. Most of the senior players who did not play in South Africa have returned to the starting XV, including Dan Carter and Richie McCaw.
Starting XV: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Adam Thomson, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Andrew Hore, John Afoa, Ali Williams, Victor Vito, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Isaia Toeava
The big news in the Australian camp is that James O’Conner will be absent from the squad. O’Connor is serving a one game ban after sleeping in and missing the Wallabies World Cup squad announcement last Thursday. His absence has forced a backline reshuffle, with Anthony Fainga’a to start at outside-centre and Adam Ashley-Cooper shifting to the right wing. Nathan Sharpe will also miss out with Dan Vickerman getting the nod.
Starting XV: 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13. Anthony Fainga’a, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Radike Samo, 7. David Pocock, 6. Rocky Elsom, 5. James Horwill, (c), 4. Dan Vickerman, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore. 1. Sekope Kepu.
Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Salesi Ma’afu, 18. Rob Simmons, 19. Ben McCalman, 20. Scott Higginbotham, 21. Luke Burgess, 22. TBA.
The All Blacks have been installed as favourites for this clash, with the Wallabies given a 5.5 point head start. Below are the latest odds (subject to change):
The Wallabies need a win more than the All Blacks do. Victory would hand Australia their first Tri Nations crown in ten years, but the real prize is psychological. The All Blacks won both their home Tri Nations fixtures, showing they will be hard to beat on home soil come October. They also retained the Bledisloe Cup this year. While New Zealand did lose to South Africa last week it was with a heavily reshuffled team, so they will still feel their World Cup preparations are on track. To build real momentum for themselves and install some anxiety across the ditch the Wallabies need to win on Saturday.
I point this out because the last time Australia had more to play for was in the 4th Bledisloe Cup Test last year in Hong Kong. Australia were desperate to snap the All Blacks winning streak while New Zealand had little to gain. Australia won the Test 26-24.
The All Blacks won the reverse fixture 30-14 on August 8th, but James O’Connor missed a number of makable kicks that game, ending 0-3 with the boot. I’m expecting a hard fought game with neither side running away with it. I’m inclined to back the Wallabies (-5.5) in a line bet.