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Preview: New Zealand v Australia

Fri, 24 Aug 2012 06:24
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Just about everyone has written off Australia's chances of springing an upset
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The Wallabies will have to defy both history and form in order to keep their Bledisloe Cup hopes alive in Auckland on Saturday.

The Tri-Nations champions were humbled on their home turf by the All Blacks last week and have to pull off their first win at Eden Park in 26 years if they are to avoid a tenth consecutive Bledisloe Cup defeat.

The All Blacks barely got out of second gear to win in Sydney last week, and having made just one injury-enforced change they will be looking for a far more fluent performance at home which stacks the odds even more heavily against the visitors.

Wallaby coach Robbie Deans is under serious pressure with David Pocock and Sekope Kepu sidelined through injury, and he has picked a team that is set up to take the game to the world champions with the unpredictable Quade Cooper stepping in at flyhalf and fullback Kurtley Beale dropping to the bench after a sloppy display last week.

The return of Drew Mitchell at wing gives the Wallabies more firepower out wide, and they may well throw caution to the wind and try to play a more expansive game, which could make for an entertaining duel with the star-studded All Black backline.

Deans will be hopeful that the two newcomers in the Wallaby front row - Ben Alexander and Stephen Moore - make a big impact against an All Black pack which has Wyatt Crockett standing in for the experienced Tony Woodcock.

Just about everyone has written off Australia's chances of springing an upset, so they will be determined to prove that they can rise to the occasion, but it really will take a special effort against their more polished rivals.

The continuity in selection that All Black coach Steve Hansen has opted for shows that he wants to see this combination deliver a more convincing performance than last week, and if the Wallabies are not accurate enough they could find themselves being punished severely.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Fullback Israel Dagg is in sublime form and if he manages to link up with either wing the Wallabies could find themselves scrambling. Sonny Bill Williams will play his last game for the All Blacks in at least two years so he will want to go out with a bang. In the pack Kieran Read will lead the charge with skipper Richie McCaw not far behind, while Luke Romano will be out to stamp his authority in the tight exchanges.

For Australia: Drew Mitchell and Quade Cooper will be expected to spark the backline on their return to Test rugby, whilst Berrick Barnes' steady boot will be on call at inside centre. Stephen Moore will be determined to show that he is the best hooker in Australia and in the back row young Michael Hooper will go about trying to fill the boots of David Pocock.

Head to head: In the front row the battle between the newcomers Wyatt Crockett and Ben Alexander could play an important role and once the ball in play the scrap for the ball on the ground between the experienced Richie McCaw and rookie Michael Hooper could determine which team is able to build the most momentum. In the backline Quade Cooper will be up against the master Dan Carter in another test of which flyhalf is able to hold their nerve on the big stage and Berrick Barnes is likely to have his hands full dealing with Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre.

Recent results:
2012: New Zealand won 27-19 in Sydney
2011: New Zealand won 20-6 in Auckland
2011: Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane
2011: New Zealand won 30-14 in Auckland
2010: Australia won 26-24 in Hong Kong
2010: New Zealand won 23-22 in Sydney

Prediction: Australia will throw everything at New Zealand, but the All Blacks should have too much firepower on home turf so we expect them to win by at least 10 points.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.

Australia: 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (captain), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Radike Samo, 19 Liam Gill, 20 Nick Phipps21. Anthony Fainga'a, 22 Kurtley Beale.

Date: Saturday, August 25
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 (07.35 GMT; 09.35 SA time)
Predicted weather: Partly cloudy but dry, high of 16 low of 10, light winds
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Alain Rolland (Ireland), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Michael de Vries

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