The following is a preview of the Round 1 Rugby Championship clash between Australia and New Zealand at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. The game kicks off at 8:05 PM AEST on Saturday, the 17th of August. The referee is Craig Joubert from South Africa.
New Zealand won the inaugural Rugby Championship with a perfect 6-0 record. They also won the Bledisloe Cup with a 2-1-0 record. The Wallabies finished 2nd in the Rugby Championship last year with a 3-0-3 record. Below are last year’s results between the All Blacks and Wallabies:
20 Oct 2012 (Brisbane) – Australia 18-18 New Zealand (Bledisloe Cup dead rubber)
25 Aug 2012 (Auckland) – New Zealand 22-0 Australia
18 Aug 2012 (Sydney) – Australia 19-27 New Zealand
Since 2008 the two sides have met 18 times. During this time the All Blacks won 14, drew one and lost 3. Worryingly for Australia, the last three times they drew or beat the All Blacks the Bledisloe Cup had already been secured by New Zealand. The All Blacks have won the last 9 straight Tests when the Bledisloe Cup was still up for grabs.
Ewen McKenzie introduced eight new caps into the extended squad for the Rugby Championship. The axing of former head coach Robbie Deans sees Quade Cooper return to the squad, however he will start on the bench with Matt Toomua given the nod for the No. 10 jersey and James O’Connor shifting back to the wing. Benn Robinson was dropped from the squad with James Slipper taking his place at loosehead prop. Wycliff Palu and Kurtley Beale are unavailable due to injury, while George Smith has retired.
15. Jesse Mogg, 14. Israel Folau, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12. Christian Leali’ifano, 11. James O’Connor, 10. Matt Toomua, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben Mowen, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Hugh McMeniman, 5. James Horwill (captain), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. James Slipper
Reserves: 16. Saia Fainga’a, 17. Scott Sio, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Scott Fardy, 20. Liam Gill, 21. Nic White, 22. Quade Cooper, 23. Tevita Kuridrani
Dan Carter is out for three to four weeks with a calf injury while Francis Saili is also out for a couple of weeks. In their absence Ryan Crotty has been added to the bench. Richie McCaw will skipper the side after returning from a sabbatical late in the Super Rugby season. Liam Messam was initially named in the starting fifteen but has since picked up a hamstring injury. He has been replaced by Steven Luatua. With a number of players over the age of 30, the All Blacks comfortably boast the most experienced squad in this year’s competition. Four players in the training squad have more than 90 caps, compared to none for the other three countries.
1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Andrew Hore, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Samuel Whitelock, 6. Steven Luatua, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 8. Kieran Read, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Ben Smith, 15. Israel Dagg
Reserves: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Charlie Faumuina, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Ryan Crotty
While they may not admit it publicly, Wallabies will be quietly pleased that All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter will miss this Test with a calf injury. Aaron Cruden is a very handy replacement, although the All Blacks will be hoping his poor showing in the Super Rugby final was just an aberration. With that being said, Cruden was solid in the All Blacks Tests earlier in the year and the All Blacks tore the Irish to shreds with him at the helm in 2011. One downside for the All Blacks, however, is they no longer have a natural left footed kicker in the backs – something they used to their advantage in previous Tests.
Given he hasn’t started a single game this Super Rugby season, there are questions over Richie McCaw’s fitness. Coach Steve Hansen has said they have no concerns but it would be an immense effort to go 60+ minutes in a Bledisloe Cup Test after almost a year out of the game. The All Blacks play high tempo rugby so McCaw will be found out quickly if he isn’t at peak fitness. Coach Hansen’s desire for the All Blacks to play at a high tempo is the main reason why scrum-half Piri Weepu was left out of the squad.
This is the first time we will see the Wallabies under new coach Ewen McKenzie. He replaces Robbie Deans who was sacked after the series loss to the British & Irish Lions. McKenzie was a Wallabies assistant coach from 2000–2003 and has since had stints as the head coach for the Waratahs, Stade Français and the Reds. This will also be the first time we see Israel Folau go up against the All Blacks after he made his successful debut against the British & Irish Lions.
The eight new players in the wider training squad highlight that Australia is very much in a transitional period. The combination of the squad changes with a new coach means the Wallabies will be the most unpredictable side coming into this year’s tournament. McKenzie has kept his cards close to his chest during the week, with the media kept away from all training sessions. The selection of uncapped Matt Toomua at fly-half comes as a surprise. No doubt the All Blacks will look to put pressure on him on his debut.
For both sides this will be their first experience using the new “crouch, bind, set” procedure at scrum time. Props will now be required to lock arms rather than just touch. This change is designed to reduce the number of scrum resets. There will be less emphasis on the initial hit and it will be interesting to see how the teams adapt.
The Wallabies will be looking to start the McKenzie era off on the right foot, just as they did when Robbie Deans first took charge. In their first game against the All Blacks in the Deans era they won 34–19 at ANZ Stadium in 2008. That was the last time the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in a Test where the Bledisloe Cup hadn’t already been determined. A new coaching appointment usually lifts a side, and given the Wallabies will be desperate to win their only home game this Bledisloe Cup series, I would back the Wallabies +9.5 (pick your own line market) at 1.57 (Sportsbet / IASbet). This selection would have got up in 13 out of the last 14 Tests when the two sides have played in Australia. You have to go back to 2005 for the last time the Wallabies lost by more than 9 points to the All Blacks in Sydney.
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