Preview: New Zealand v Australia

Fri, 25 Aug 2017 08:48
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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND TWO: rugby365 looks at Bledisloe Cup Two - as New Zealand look to repeat last week's demolition of Australia.

Such is the All Blacks' confidence going into Saturday's rematch against Australia that they have shrugged off the loss of veteran prop Owen Franks by calmly slotting in a raw replacement, Nepo Laulala.

Against a backdrop of honouring Colin Meads, the New Zealand great who passed away last Sunday, the All Blacks are threatening to be even more dominant than they were during last week's 54-34 drubbing of the Wallabies in Sydney.

New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has tried hard to talk up Australia as a "very dangerous beast" going into the match in Dunedin.

But even after replacing the 95-Test veteran Franks - who pulled out because of a troublesome Achilles - with the four-Test Laulala, the All Blacks should again be far too strong.

For while Hansen has talked up the wounded Wallabies, his real focus has been on demanding the world champion All Blacks atone for their sub-par end to the first Test.

After scoring eight tries in the first 55 minutes, a sloppiness crept into their game that allowed Australia to come back with four tries of their own.

"You've got to keep working, you've got to keep your attention on what you want to do rather than taking a big sigh and a breath," Hansen said on the need to play hard for 80 minutes.

"The opposition are going to keep working so you have to too. Our attention went to the scoreboard. As a result of that we threw poor passes, our skill execution was poor, our defence was poor. There wasn't too much that was good, really."

New Zealand attack coach Ian Foster believes part of the All Blacks success stems from the Wallabies being too predictable with their game plans.

"They have been consistent with that for a couple of years, to be fair," he said.

"We kind of expected to see what we saw in the midfield Will they change it? I am not sure."

Hansen has largely kept faith in the same starting line-up apart from the late injury to Franks and the return of hooker Dane Coles, who has been cleared of the concussion symptoms which sidelined him for most of the year.

The Wallabies, plagued by attack inaccuracies and a porous defence last week, have made three changes, including the gamble of replacing lock Rory Arnold with Rob Simmons.

Coach Michael Cheika said it was time for Simmons to prove himself after being shown the door by the Queensland Reds following a disappointing Super Rugby season.

It is "an opportunity for Simmons to put his foot down," Cheika said. "I think it's time he puts a marker down for his international career as well in dominating that lock position."

The other two Wallaby changes were expected, with Tevita Kuridrani in for Samu Kerevi and a fit again Dane Haylett-Petty taking over from Curtis Rona on the wing.

Rather than fret about their poor first half last week, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has highlighted how their game clicked in the second half to score 28 unanswered points.

"We spoke (at half-time) about putting them under pressure and it started to work," he said.

But while Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau showed they could stretch the All Blacks, by then the game was over and the All Blacks had eased up.

Hansen does not want a return of such complacency this week, with the roofed Otago Stadium offering conditions ripe for another high-scoring spectacular.

The Australians "will be hurting so that will make them even hungrier than they have been ... they'll be a very dangerous beast," Hansen said. "I would expect them to be a lot more physical than they were last week."

The All Blacks will also be inspired by playing in memory of Meads, an icon of New Zealand rugby.

Both sides will observe a moment's silence before the match and afterwards All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock, who plays in the number five jersey Meads wore for 47 of his 55 Tests, will present his shirt to the Meads family.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Fullback Damian McKenzie is always exciting, while Ben Smith will play his last game of the year on the wing. Ryan Crotty, alongside Sonny Bill Williams in midfield, is the real danger. Sam Whitelock is the epitome of professionalism, while Brodie Retallick is the real enforcer. Nepo Laulala gets a chance to prove that he is the future of All Black front row forwards.

For Australia: Israel Folau's aerial skills and attacking threats, along with Kurtley Beale's creative ability is where the Wallabies can do damage. Michael Hooper had a bad day at the office last week and will look to make amends. The front row of Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore and Scott Sio will look for set piece dominance.

Head to head: Damian McKenzie (New Zealand) against Israel Folau (Australia), two of the most exciting players in the game. While they are expected to bust tackles and make plenty of metres, it is more the attention they attract and subsequent space they create for others that make them so valuable. Like last week, the midfield battle between Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams (All Blacks) against Tevita Kuridrani and Kurtley Beale (Wallabies) could be decisive. Of course the set pieces are also crucial - tight five against tight five.

Recent results:
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 now won six games on the bounce against the Wallabies, averaging 40 points per game in that run. The last time Australia travelled to New Zealand and defeated the All Blacks was in August 2001; they've since lost 20 such fixtures. The All Blacks posted 40 first-half points against the Wallabies last week, setting the record for the most first-half points in a Rugby Championship game, and the most ever conceded in a Test match by Australia. The last and only previous meeting between these teams at Forsyth Barr Stadium saw the All Blacks run out 41-33 victors, in 2013. In fact, the All Blacks are undefeated from four previous games at Forsyth Barr Stadium, including a 46-6 win against Wales last year. The Wallabies will be looking to win back-to-back Rugby Championship games away from home for the first time since 2000 when they earned consecutive wins in New Zealand and South Africa. New Zealand gained a round-high 652 metres against Australia last round; the last time any team other than the All Blacks made so many metres against Australia was England in November 2010 (708 metres). Australia ended the weekend with a 100 percent success rate at the line-out (5/5), the only team to win every lineout on their own throw. Kieran Read is set to make his 95th start for the All Blacks (102nd  cap), which would equal Mils Muliaina for the fourth most ever by a New Zealand player (behind McCaw, Carter and Woodcock). Only Bryan Habana (21) has scored more tries than Ben Smith (17) in The Rugby Championship. You would be silly to put any money on Australia - they won't win unless there is match-fixing. New Zealand to win by at least 20 points.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Izack Rodda, 20 Lopeti Timani, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Curtis Rona.

Date: Saturday, August 26
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19.35 (17.35 Australian Eastern Time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: The weather will have no influence - it is an indoor stadium.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

AFP & @rugby365com

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