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McKenzie's rookies to end misery

Thu, 15 Aug 2013 08:11
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The fact that five guys haven't played a Test before isn't a concern
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Ewen McKenzie faces a supreme challenge in his first Test as Wallaby coach on Saturday - to find a way to end the All Blacks' decade of Bledisloe Cup dominance.

McKenzie gets his chance after replacing Robbie Deans, who won only three of his 18 Tests against New Zealand and whose reign ended after the British and Irish Lions hammered the Wallabies 41-16 last month to take the three-match series.

The former Reds coach is looking to uncover players who are not physically and emotionally scarred by being repeatedly mauled by the All Blacks.

McKenzie on Thursday named five new caps, including Matt Toomua at flyhalf, in his Rugby Championship team.

Injuries to Wycliff Palu and Kurtley Beale, the retirement of George Smith, the axing of experienced prop Benn Robinson and the shift from flyhalf to wing of James O'Connor ensure the Wallabies side will be decidedly different from the one that started the final Test against the Lions.

McKenzie chose uncapped Toomua over Quade Cooper at No.10 and four uncapped Brumbies teammates - Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Nic White and Tevita Kuridrani - on the replacements bench.

"Sometimes you need people that come in fresh, who have never lost to the All Blacks and you can build a different mindset around that," McKenzie said.

"We know that the Wallabies have been quite capable of winning the trophy in the past and quite capable of beating New Zealand.

"It happens, New Zealand do lose games. They lost a big game to England last year - they do lose and we've got to make sure we're the team out there putting the pressure on them."

McKenzie said he was confident the new group could achieve immediate success as they begin their pursuit of winning the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.

"When we picked the team we didn't spend one minute looking at how many Test caps a player had or the number of debutants," the coach said, adding: "It was picked on performance over a sustained period of time and on how we want to play the game.

"The fact that five guys haven't played a Test before isn't a concern.

"Everyone has to start from somewhere and we definitely haven't picked them on one game. Rather, they are starting their Test careers off the back of consistently strong performances at a provincial level.

"The reality is that whether it's in Super Rugby or the Test arena, all our guys have a lot of familiarity with who we are playing against.

"I see that as a positive as we aren't playing anyone we don't already know a lot about.

"If you keep the contest in that space you will find that we've had success in all the head-to-head individual battles at some point and under different circumstances.

"So, if our guys do well against their individual opponent, than I think we've got a gameplan and a game style where we will be able to express ourselves and put the team in a good position to win."

No.8 Ben Mowen said the squad was impressed by McKenzie's ideas and the thoroughness of his planning.

"I like the strategies that he's talking about putting in place," Mowen said.

"The guys as a whole are generally very impressed by him and excited and want to make sure that we start this McKenzie era off on the right foot."

All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen has turned up the heat by saying the Wallabies will be under intense pressure because of the arrival of a new coach.

"I only have to think back myself to when I had my first Test match as [All Blacks] coach," Hansen said.

"Whether you want to admit it publicly, there is pressure because there's a question mark.

"Australia hasn't had a great run against us for a wee while now. That's all been attributed to Robbie Deans, which I think is a bit unfair.

"Everyone seems to think Ewen is going to make the difference, so there has to be pressure on him, because what happens if it doesn't work?"

World Cup-winning skipper Richie McCaw returns to lead the All Blacks after taking a sabbatical and missing a large chunk of this year's Super Rugby.

McCaw is in line for his 117th Test cap and is the only All Black player to have played Australia in 30 Tests.

Aaron Cruden replaces the injured Dan Carter at flyhalf, while Aaron Smith slots in for dropped scrumhalf Piri Weepu.

McKenzie believes Hansen has a few concerns of his own as the All Blacks defend the Bledisloe Cup they have held since 2003, and the Rugby Championship they won last year.

"They're in transition from what I can see, they've got a few selection decisions of their own, working out the positions and where they are in terms of experienced players versus young guys coming through," McKenzie said, referring to how Hansen is going to manage ageing stars such as McCaw, Carter, Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu.

AFP & rugby365

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