PREVIEW: Australia v New Zealand
BLEDISLOE CUP: Australia will look to repair their international reputations when they face the ultimate test against New Zealand.
The World Rugby Champions bagged the Bledisloe trophy for the 15-consecutive year and head into Saturday's fixture with full intent of keeping that supremacy over Australia intact.
The match might be dead rubber, but for the Wallabies, who last lifted the trophy in 2002, a win is crucial especially with the country's rugby moral at an all-time low.
Since their 34-54 defeat to the All Black in Sydney, Australia have been improving, hence the performance in Dunedin. They leapt out a 17-0 lead and held their advantage until the 78th minute. Eventually, folded and with less than two minutes from full-time Beauden Barrett crossed the chalk to scrape home 35-29, which sealed the trophy.
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The Cup may be gone for another year but star centre Kurtley Beale is confident the Australians, who will wear an indigenous-themed jersey to honour Aborigines' role in rugby, can finish their home season with an uplifting win infront of a boisterous Brisbane crowd.
"I think that [Dunedin] was a huge game for us to get a good understanding of where we are at as a playing squad,” Beale said.
"The more we play, the better we are getting. That's the positive. We're still building towards what we believe we can achieve."
Australia’s attack has been much improved throughout this year with the Wallabies scoring the same number of tries in nine Test matches this year (39) as they scored in 15 Tests during 2016.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is also wary of the Australian threat after they improved markedly during the recent Rugby Championship following a 54-34 beating in the series opener in Sydney.
"From Australia's point of view, they'll be desperate to win as they haven't done so for some time," he said. "I don't think after the Dunedin Test we can afford to be one or two percent off."
Hansen added that New Zealand's goal was to "never be satisfied at where we're at".
"We're always striving to get better every game and this week is no different," he warned.
Lock Rob Simmons is the Wallabies' only change to the team that beat Argentina 37-20 a fortnight ago to finish second in the Rugby Championship behind the All Blacks, replacing Izack Rodda who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Wednesday.
Retiring former captain Stephen Moore was named among the replacements for what will be his last Test in Australia and his 125th overall.
The veteran hooker will end his international career after Australia's European tour in November.
The All Blacks have opted not to risk flyhalf Beauden Barrett after his recent head knock, with Lima Sopoaga to start at No.10.
Although Barrett was cleared of concussion after a clash playing South Africa two weeks ago, he has suffered dizziness and headaches since.
The only other change in the All Blacks' starting line up is the return of Waisake Naholo on the right wing for the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Although New Zealand has dominated Australia in recent years, Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium has been a difficult venue for the New Zealanders.
Of five matches there over the past 11 years, the All Blacks have lost one, drawn one, and won three but never by more than a four-point margin.
Players to watch:
For Australia: In the Australia set-up there is always the skillful Israel Folau, who just dominate any aerial battle. Kurtley Beale along with Bernard Foley have the ability to exploit any side's weakness.
For New Zealand: After being dominated by the Springbok Malcolm Marx a fortnight ago, Dane Coles will be eager to redeem himself. In the absence of World rugby player of the year, Lima Sopoaga will want to fill that void and prove himself. Ryan Crotty, alongside Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, is the real danger.
Head to head: Damian McKenzie (New Zealand) against Israel Folau (Australia), two of the most exciting players in the game. The midfield battle between Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams (All Blacks) against Tevita Kuridrani and Kurtley Beale (Wallabies) could be decisive. While out wide, All Blacks flyer Rieko Ioane matches up with Wallabies speedster Marika Koroibete.
2017: New Zealand won 35-29 in Dunedin
2017: New Zealand won 54-34, Sydney
2016: New Zealand won 37-10, Auckland
2016: New Zealand won 29-9, Wellington
2016: New Zealand won 42-8, Sydney
2015: New Zealand won 34-17, London (World Cup Final)
2015: New Zealand won 41-13, Auckland
2015: Australia won 27-19, Sydney
2014: New Zealand won 29-28, Brisbane
2014: New Zealand won 51-20, Auckland
2014: New Zealand and Australia drew 12-all, Sydney
Prediction: The All Blacks have played Australia 160 times with 111 wins to the All Blacks, 42 to the Wallabies and seven draws. They've played each other six times at Suncorp Stadium, with the most recent match a hard-fought 29-28 win to the All Blacks in 2014. The All Blacks have now won seven games on the bounce against the Wallabies, averaging 40 points per game in that run. The Wallabies' solidarity and Brisbane's belief will not be enough... even without talisman Beauden Barrett, New Zealand to win by at least 20 points.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 2 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Henry Speight.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 David Havili.
Date: Saturday, October 21
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Australia
Kick-off: 19.05 (22.05 NZ time; 09.05 GMT)
Expected Weather: Mostly cloudy with an 80 percent chance of rain. Winds southwesterly 12 to 24 km/h. High of 20°C, low of 18°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Egon Seconds (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)