The following is a preview of the Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. The game kicks off at 5:35 PM AEDT on Saturday, the 19th of October.
The All Blacks remain undefeated in the Rugby Championship format after winning the trophy for the second year running. They did so in spectacular style, with a 38-27 victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. The Springboks were seeking vengeance for their most recent defeats but their need for a bonus point win by more than seven points worked in the visitors’ favour, with the high-tempo rugby suiting New Zealand. The result was a fantastic spectacle for the neutral. I could go on and on about the All Blacks’ incredible form, but I will just say that in the past two years under Steve Hansen they have won 21, drawn 1 and lost 1.
Much to the relief of new coach Ewen McKenzie, the Wallabies put in a much improved performance to beat Los Pumas 52-17 to avoid the wooden spoon in the Rugby Championship. Fullback Israel Folau was heavily involved as their attack finally clicked into gear. There’s still room for improvement, but the improved coherency in attack and ball security at the breakdown was a welcome sign for Wallabies supporters.
Tighthead prop Owen Franks remains out with a groin injury. In what look to be rotational changes, Jeremy Thrush and Keven Mealamu get their first starts of the season ahead of Brodie Retallick and Andrew Hore.
In the backs, Ben Smith shifts from the wing to centre now that Conrad Smith has commenced a four-month break from rugby. Experienced winger Cory Jane takes Ben Smith’s place on the wing. Jane has only played one full game in the last eight months after injuring his knee in a Super Rugby pre-season fixture. Dan Carter remains out so Aaron Cruden gets the start at flyhalf with Beauden Barrett named on the bench.
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Cory Jane, 13. Ben Smith, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Julian Savea, 10. Aaron Cruden, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Kieran Read, 7. Richie McCaw (catpain), 6. Liam Messam, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Tony Woodcock
Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Ben Franks, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Tom Taylor
— SQUAD UPDATE —
McCaw has been ruled out with a tight calf while Jane has suffered a mild hamstring strain. Sam Cane replaces McCaw, Charles Piutau replaces Jane, Steven Luatua comes onto the bench and Kieran Read takes over as captain.
15. Israel Dagg, 14. Charles Piutau, 13. Ben Smith, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 11. Julian Savea, 10. Aaron Cruden, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Kieran Read (catpain), 7. Sam Cane, 6. Liam Messam, 5. Sam Whitelock, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 2. Keven Mealamu, 1. Tony Woodcock
Reserves: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Ben Franks, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Steven Luatua, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Tom Taylor
Matt Toomua comes in for the injured Christian Lealiifano at centre while a hamstring injury to Joe Tomane sees Kiwi-born Peter Betham get his first Wallabies start on the wing.
In the forwards, Scott Fardy is out with an eye injury. Ben Mowen has shifted from No. 8 to replace Fardy at blindside flanker, with Ben McCalman coming in at No. 8.
15. Israel Folau, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Matt Toomua, 11. Peter Betham, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. Michael Hooper, 6. Ben Mowen, 5. James Horwill (captain), 4. Rob Simmons, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. James Slipper
Reserves: 16. Saia Faingaa, 17. Benn Robinson, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Sitaleki Timani, 20. Dave Dennis, 21. Nic White, 22. Mike Harris, 23. Bernard Foley
The All Blacks will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, when the third dead rubber was drawn 18-18 in Brisbane. Coach Steve Hansen blamed their substandard performance on the Test preparation which in hindsight was too long following Tests in Argentina and South Africa. This year the squad assembled just four days out from the game, giving the players a longer break after the Ellis Park Test.
A key challenge for the All Blacks will be motivation as they will likely have one eye on the upcoming European tour – as signalled by the two rotational changes in the forwards. Captain Richie McCaw says the team is focused less on their opposition and more on their own performance standards as they continually strive for better execution.
A big struggle for the Wallabies this season has been a lack of confidence. The All Blacks expect them to be more dangerous than in the first two Tests now that the 54-17 hammering of Los Pumas has lifted their spirits. The Wallabies will need to continue to improve on their ball security at the breakdown and they will need to maintain urgency in defence for the full 80 minutes, but with the All Blacks having one eye on the upcoming end of year Tests, they should be competitive on Saturday.
In terms of squads, both sides have been disrupted in the backs. The All Blacks will miss the experience of Conrad Smith and they risk changing something that isn’t broken by moving their prolific try scorer Ben Smith into the centres. With points likely to be at a premium, the Wallabies will miss the goal kicking prowess of Lealiifano, with Quade Cooper taking over the responsibility. On the wing, Peter Betham will be severely tested on his debut. In the forwards, the Wallabies will miss blindside flanker Scott Fardy’s physicality. Hooper’s work rate at the breakdown will likely have to increase in his absence.
History is certainly against the Wallabies this weekend. They haven’t beaten the All Blacks on New Zealand soil since 2001. The All Blacks enter this fixture on a 29-game home winning streak. The only caveat to these stats is this Test is a dead rubber, which could help the Wallabies.
This could be a danger game for anyone looking to back the All Blacks because they have a much less intimidating record in fixtures when there’s nothing on the line. This time last year the All Blacks entered the Bledisloe Cup dead rubber as 14-point favourites but they could only manage a draw. In 2010 the All Blacks lost 24-26 to the Wallabies in Hong Kong in another Bledisloe Cup dead rubber. This snapped a 10-game winning streak for New Zealand against Australia. It seems the All Blacks are most vulnerable when they go into injury-limitation mode, and with the Bledisloe Cup secured for 11th consecutive year, it will be difficult for them to match the Wallabies in intensity of preparation.
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