Key Clash Preview: Australia v New Zealand
It what could well end up being a final rehearsal for the Rugby World Cup final on October 23rd, the Wallabies take on the All Blacks at Suncorp in Brisbane this weekend to decide the shortened Tri-Nations tournament.
Date: 27th August 2011
Time: 10:05 GMT
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
You cannot beat a Bledisloe Cup clash between the best two sides in the world for entertainment. With the World Cup just two weeks away, you sense that a defeat could have severe psychological consequences for either side, and therefore coaches Robbie Deans and Graham Henry will be praying for a victory to make their lives just a little bit easier over the next few weeks.
A crushing defeat in Auckland against the All Blacks was forgotten two weeks ago when the Wallabies defeated South Africa two weeks ago in Durban. It was the perfect response after the being dismantled the week before by a strong All Black side. This time round it is the All Blacks under pressure after losing to South Africa in Port Elizabeth last weekend, and the physicality of that match plus the jetlag flying over from PE could play into the Wallabies hands.
Although undoubtedly fielding a weaker side last weekend against South Africa, Graham Henry will have been surprised by the defeat, particularly the manner which the All Blacks failed to control their discipline allowing Morné Steyn to rack up the points. Missing Richie McCaw and Dan Carter proved significant, as New Zealand failed to handle the aggressive Springboks at the breakdown and in defence. Australia will have taken note.
What to expect:
The All Blacks seem to set to redeem last week’s loss having picked their first choice team for the World Cup. Carter’s control of the game will return, along with McCaw’s damaged view of what is legal at the breakdown. Everyone knows what the All Blacks can do with Muliaina, Smith and Nonu in the backs, but it is in the scrum where the All Blacks focus will lie, particularly on exposing Wallaby loosehead Sekope Kepu through the power of Owen Franks. For Australia, a combination of Genia’s serene calm and Cooper’s magic will guide them forward once again, under the leadership of the in-form second row in world rugby, James Horwill.
All eyes on:
Anthony Fainga’a has come into the side for Australia following James O’Connor’s one-match suspension, with Adam Ashley-Cooper moving out onto the wing. Having just finished his most successful season with the Queensland Reds, during which he received plenty of deserved praise for his excellent defence, Fainga’a inclusion in the starting line-up is long overdue.
For the All Blacks, Zac Guildford’s selection alongside Isaia Toeava for the World Cup squad was a bit of a surprise given the good form of Hosea Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu over the last 12 months. The young Crusaders winger therefore has it all to prove against the Wallabies.
Head to Head:
The battle of the two 6s could sway the game on Saturday, so we’re focusing on Rocky Elsom and Adam Thomson. Elsom has been stripped off the captaincy just weeks before the start of the World Cup, a factor that will no doubt still leave him reeling when he steps on the pitch at Suncorp on Saturday. Thomson has already spoken in the press about how a wounded Rocky is a dangerous beast, and will need to be at his most physical to control him.
Last fixture: March 6th, 2011, New Zealand 30-14 Australia, Auckland.
Weather: Heavy rain.
Forgetting the two teams for a moment, it is important to remember than Suncorp has already been the setting this season for two victories over New Zealand’s strongest province, the Crusaders, by the Queensland Reds, and both sides contributing heavily to the national sides. Suncorp has become a fortress, and the aura should overflow into this match. The Wallabies by 6.
by Ben Coles