The following article previews Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash between Australia and New Zealand at Suncorp Stadium. The game kicks off at 9:00 PM AEDT on Saturday, the 20th of October. The referee is Craig Joubert from South Africa. The All Blacks have an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best of three series but the Wallabies will be motivated to break the All Blacks’ 16-game winning streak that stems back to last year’s Tri Nations series.
After triumphing 27-19 in an error-ridden game in Sydney the All Blacks thumped the Wallabies 22-0 in Auckland. History certainly stacks up against the Wallabies. Since August 2008 New Zealand have won 14 of the last 16 Tests against Australia and 5 of their last 6 Tests on Australian soil. At Suncorp Stadium the All Blacks have prevailed in 3 of their 4 Tests. It was at Suncorp, however, that the All Blacks suffered their most recent defeat when they fell 25-20 to the Wallabies.
In 2012 the injury-ravaged Wallabies have enduring their leanest try-scoring season of the professional era, averaging just 1.2 tries per game. In contrast the All Blacks have averaged 3.67 tries per Test.
Winger Digby Ioane has been ruled out due to a lingering knee injury. He is expected to recover in time for next month’s end-of-season tour of Europe. Adam Ashley-Cooper returns after missing the Rosario Test with a concussion and will start in Ioane’s absence. Drew Mitchell returns from injury and will start on the bench while Dom Shipperley has been ruled out with a lingering wrist problem.
Wycliff Palu returns to the side after a three month absence due to injury. He replaces Radike Samo at the back of the scrum with Samo dropped from the side. Scott Higginbotham will start at blind-side flanker with Sitaleki Timani moving into the second row at the expense of Kane Douglas. In the front row, prop Benn Robinson starts at loosehead while James Slipper will play at tighthead in the absence of Ben Alexander who was ruled out on Thursday with a wrist injury. Veteran Nathan Sharpe will again captain the team in the absence of injured skippers James Horwill, David Pocock and Will Genia. Saia Faingaa was initially named on the bench but was ruled out after breaking his hand during training on Tuesday. He has been replaced by the uncapped James Hanson.
15-Mike Harris, 14-Nick Cummins, 13-Ben Tapuai, 12-Pat McCabe, 11-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10-Kurtley Beale, 9-Nick Phipps, 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-Michael Hooper, 6-Scott Higginbotham, 5-Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4-Sitaleki Timani, 3-James Slipper, 2-Tatafu Polota Nau, 1-Benn Robinson
Reserves: 16-James Hanson, 17-Sekope Kepu, 18-Kane Douglas, 19-Dave Dennis, 20-Liam Gill, 21-Brett Sheehan, 22-Drew Mitchell
Keven Mealamu will start in his 100th Test after starting from the bench in previous Tests. Andrew Hore reverts back to the sideline. In the only other change to the starting side, tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina receives his first Test start with Owen Franks dropping to the bench. On the reserves, Ben Smith replaces Tamati Ellison as the backup outside back and Victor Vito has been included at the expense of Adam Thompson.
15-Israel Dagg, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma’a Nonu, 11-Hosea Gear, 10-Daniel Carter, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Charlie Faumuina, 2-Keven Mealamu, 1-Tony Woodcock
Reserves: 16-Andrew Hore, 17-Owen Franks, 18-Luke Romano, 19-Victor Vito, 20-Piri Weepu, 21-Aaron Cruden, 22-Ben Smith
With every possible trophy available to them already locked away in the cabinet, it will be extending their 16-game winning streak that will motivate the All Blacks. The last time they enjoyed a good run was in 2010 with 15 wins on the trot. They then lost to the Wallabies in Hong Kong in what was another Bledisloe Cup dead rubber. With the 18-game world record – held by Lithuania of all countries – in sight, one would expect the All Blacks will be motivated to not let the Wallabies derail them again. Another source of motivation for the All Blacks is the desire to provide Mealamu success on his 100th cap. The 33 year old is only the third All Black to reach this milestone. The All Blacks will also want to lift for coach Steve Hansen whose father passed away this week.
The All Blacks stuttered in attack in their opening four Tests in the Rugby Championship, with backline plays that often saw the final pass go astray. The All Blacks pointed to lack of composure and patience as the primary culprit. It only seemed a matter of time before their high tempo offence finally clicked and it was the Pumas on the receiving end when it did, with the All Blacks running in 7 tries and 54 points in La Plata. After falling behind 16-12 at the break against South Africa a week later, the All Blacks rallied to win 32-16. The recent spike in points scored by the All Blacks is ominous for Australia.
While many pundits in Australia have applauded the Wallabies’ “gusty” performance in Rosario two weeks ago, one gets the impression that those on the other side of the Tasman weren’t too impressed. Max Bania from TVNZ wrote “The Wallabies saved some face by winning in Rosario, but despite their media’s laughable claims of a “momentous” win, it was still an aimless and error-strewn performance.”
The lengthy injury list could be a case of short-term pain, long-term gain for the Wallabies. The injuries don’t help the win/loss record this season but they do increase the depth the Wallabies will have at the international level for future campaigns. Robbie Deans has been forced to give numerous players their international debuts this season with many of them rising to the occasion. Ben Tapuai played well on debut against the Pumas, while Nick Cummins and Mike Harris have also shown promise. The All Blacks on the other hand are near full strength, with Jerome Kaino the most notable absentee this season.
I expect another gutsy Wallabies performance on Saturday, driven on by a strong Brisbane crowd, but I predict the superior talent and fitness of the All Blacks will take its toll in the end, with New Zealand breaking free in the second half to notch their 17th consecutive win.
For all that can be said for home advantage, it has been on the road that the All Blacks have scored most of their points in the Rugby Championship. At home they scored 22, 21 and 21 points while abroad they have scored 27 (vs. Wallabies), 54 (vs. Pumas) and 32 (vs. Springboks) points. The Wallabies will likely need to score at least 30 points on Saturday to secure victory and with 12 tries scored in 10 Tests this season, it’s hard to see them doing that.
The line for the All Blacks is -13.5 and after beating South Africa by 16 at high altitude just one week after playing in Argentina, I feel the 13.5 head start for the Wallabies isn’t enough. I would back the All Blacks at the line at 1.91 odds with Sportingbet / Centrebet. Another appealing bet is to back the All Blacks to win both halves at 1.83 odds with bet365. If you’re looking to back the Wallabies in a market, my recommendation is to back them to score first at 2.40 odds with bet365 because they will be desperate for a fast start.
A comparison of live bookmaker odds for the Wallabies v All Blacks Test can be found in the Live Odds section.