Preview: New Zealand v Australia

Thu, 25 Aug 2016 20:38

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP, ROUND TWO: Complacency is the big battle facing the back-to-back World Cup champion All Blacks.

New Zealand face Australia in the second round of the Rugby Championship in Wellington on Saturday.

The Wallabies have rushed the New Zealand fans' arch-enemy Quade Cooper into their line-up, hoping he can conjure up a miracle turnaround with an inspired kicking game.

But All Black coach Steve Hansen called complacency the "massive concern" for his side after the comprehensive way they whipped Australia in the opening match of the series.

Less than a year after the Wallabies were considered the second best team in the world and good enough to face the All Blacks in the World Cup Final they suffered a record 8-42 loss on home soil.

They were outgunned across the board in Sydney, and while Hansen is expecting a sterner test second time round, the major issue was knocking any thoughts of superiority out of the All Blacks.

With the Wallabies desperate to redeem themselves, Hansen has demanded the All Blacks block out memories of that thrashing and muster a similar desperation.

"You can't fake it," he said.

"If we wait and sit back then Australia will smack us and then we will be in trouble.

"It's about mentally controlling your thought patterns and getting your feet back on the ground firmly and trying to not subconsciously relax."

Having taken a public pounding from their own supporters and media since last week's humiliating scoreline, coach Michael Cheika has admitted the Wallabies needed a shake-up.

He's moved Bernard Foley to inside centre to cater for Cooper at flyhalf, with Samu Kerevi replacing Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre.

Ben McCalman and Rob Simmons are gone from the pack where lock Adam Coleman gets his first start and Scott Fardy earns a recall while Will Skelton will make his return.

Utility back Reece Hodge is in line to make his debut after being named as one of three back replacements along with Kuridrani and Nick Phipps.

Hansen, who named his side first, had predicted a Foley-Cooper combination and switched Ben Smith back to fullback with Israel Dagg going to the wing.

"It will allow Ben to come into the game a wee bit more if Australia are going to kick, which I think they probably will do a bit more," Hansen said.

"I think they will pick two [flyhalves] and try and control the territory game."

New Zealand-born and France-based Cooper, who has not played since April and whose last Test was 11 months ago, is loathed by New Zealand crowds after several run-ins with popular, former All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.

But Hansen sprang to his defence as a player respected by the All Blacks.

"He gets maligned a wee bit over here because of a few incidents with Richie and we're not too forgiving on people that pick on Rich - I'm talking about the fans - but within the team, he's well respected. He's a good player so he'll enhance them I think."

Cooper's recall helps solve, for Australia, a growing midfield injury problem that has hit both sides.

The All Blacks have depleted their stocks of experienced 12s and will start Anton Lienert-Brown in his Test debut opposite Foley.

The only other significant change in the New Zealand line-up is the return of loosehead prop Joe Moody, with Wyatt Crockett set to play his 50th Test from the bench.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: The decision to Ben Smith back to fullback will give the All Black attack another dimension. Israel Dagg on the wing may not be as successful, as he has always been at his best in the No.15 jersey. Anton Lienert-Brown will also get a large share of the spotlight on debut. One-Test All Black James Parsons will be looking to make a big enough impression off the bench to get more regular call-ups.

For Australia: The reshuffled backline - that has Samu Kerevi at outside centre, Bernard Foley at inside centre and Quade Cooper at flyhalf - may suggest the Wallabies are looking for a more tactical approach. Cooper, in particular, is seen as the guy that must provide that magical spark. Adam Coleman, in his first start, will have a massive role to play.

Head to head: You start with Beauden Barrett (New Zealand) against Quade Cooper (Australia) - the playmakers that must give direction to their teams. To have a realistic chance Australia will have to get a decisive edge in the set pieces - starting with the scrums, where Owen Franks, Dane Coles and Joe Moody (All Blacks) go up against Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore and Scott Sio (Wallabies).

Recent results:
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
2013: New Zealand won 41-33, Dunedin
2013: New Zealand won 27-16, Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 47-29, Sydney

Statistical review: The All Blacks have won their last 18 games in a row at home to the Wallabies; Australia have not crossed the Tasman and won since August 2001. New Zealand have won their last 41 home games, the longest run of consecutive home wins by any team in Test rugby history; the All Blacks last lost at home in 2009 - against South Africa. The All Blacks lost two of their first five fixtures at Westpac Stadium; however, they have won 15 in a row at the venue since then. Australia are aiming to win back-to-back away games for the first time since a run of four consecutive wins on their November 2013 tour in Europe (excluding World Cup games). The Wallabies have crossed for at least one try in each of their last 22 away games, last failing to get across the whitewash in an away game in November 2012 against France. The Wallabies have now conceded more than 40 points in each of their last two games; never before in Test history has an Australian team conceded such an amount in three straight games. Beauden Barrett scored a try and assisted two more in last week' s fixture; in his eight starts at flyhalf for the All Blacks, only once has Barrett failed to register either a try or an assist (v Argentina, September 2014). Julian Savea's try against Australia in the opening weekend of The Rugby Championship 2016 took his Test points total to 200, the third most of any New Zealand player in history to have not scored a goal. Jerome Kaino, a try scorer in New Zealand's comprehensive opening week win, has scored three tries at Westpac Stadium for the All Blacks, no other forward has scored more. Waisake Naholo has now scored four tries in his last four games, including three in his last three games on home soil.

Prediction: Of course Australia have a chance of winning. New Zealand may well be off their game. However, these All Blacks are far too professional and they have too much class. New Zealand will win by at least 15 points.

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

* Statistic provided by Opta Sport

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