New Zealand v Australia - Teams and Predictions
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP, ROUND SIX: New Zealand can put one hand on the Rugby Championship trophy with victory against Australia at their Eden Park fortress on Saturday.
However, the champions will not be decided until hours later when South Africa plays Argentina in Durban.
Despite a stuttering campaign that has seen defeats to South Africa and Argentina, New Zealand are level on points with South Africa at the top of the table and it could all come down to point difference if both win on Saturday.
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All Blacks last lost at Eden Park in 1994 and they haven’t been beaten by the Wallabies there since 1986.
Flank Akira Ioane called the Auckland stadium, which will be a 47 000 sellout on Saturday, a “fortress for the All Blacks”.
“We want to make sure we put in a good performance and don’t leave anything up to chance,” he said.
New Zealand went top of the Rugby Championship table after winning the Bledisloe Cup for the 20th straight season with a 39-37 win over Australia in Melbourne a week ago, secured only by a controversial try after the siren.
South Africa drew level when they beat Argentina two days later, leaving all four nations with a mathematical chance of winning the title.
“It’s been a very different championship for all four teams,” said New Zealand head coach Ian Foster on Thursday.
“It’s exciting for the Rugby Championship that we’ve come to the last game and no one really knows [the outcome].”
Lock Sam Whitelock captains the All Blacks as they chase a third consecutive Test win after Sam Cane failed to recover from a head knock.
It’s a far cry from the start of the Rugby Championship when the All Blacks came off a 2-1 home series loss to Ireland to be thumped 26-10 by the Springboks in Mbombela.
The under-fire Foster clung onto his job when the All Blacks bounced back with a 35-23 victory in Johannesburg but were again under pressure when Argentina won 25-18 in Christchurch.
Foster has opted for a new-look back row against Australia as Ardie Savea returns at number eight after paternity leave, alongside Dalton Papali’i and Akira Ioane.
Injuries to David Havili and Quinn Tupaea mean a new centre partnership of Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane, with Beauden Barrett starting at fullback.
“We’ve had our struggles this year, but it’s been a blessing in disguisew because it’s something new for the young guys coming in and for all of New Zealand,” said Papali’i of a 2022 campaign that has seen the All Blacks lose four of eight Tests.
“We aren’t used to it, so it’s about us finding our feet again. It’s a wake-up call, it’s Test footy, the best of the best. It’s been a good learning curve.”
Australia have been forced into a pack reshuffle after lock Darcy Swain was banned for six weeks earlier Thursday for taking out the leg of Tupaea in Melbourne.
Towering lock Cadeyrn Neville replaces Swain with hard-running Harry Wilson given a chance at number eight.
“It’s great to have Cadeyrn available and Harry’s been working really hard,” said Australia coach Dave Rennie.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley retains his place despite being penalised for time-wasting, which led to New Zealand’s Bledisloe Cup-winning try in Melbourne.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: The biggest talking point is certainly the return of Ardie Savea. The No.8, who has been the standout performer for the Al Blacks, missed last Thursday’s encounter due to the birth of his third child. He will certainly want to pick up where he left off when he partners with flanks Dalton Papali’i and Akira Ioane in the loose trio. A big occasion for the duo. The All Black also have a new midfield pair, Reiko Ioane and Jordie Barrett. Reiko has been making strides in the No.13 jersey, so it will be interesting to see what Jordie can produce at 12. Adding another attacking threat is Beuaden Barrett at fullback. The utility will add loads of creativity and can cause major headaches for the Wallabies.
For Australia: Towering lock Cadeyrn Neville will make his first Test start since injuring a knee against England in July. It will be a huge Test for the lock as he goes up against the duo of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. Similar to All Blacks, Wallabies will also field a new-look loose trio as Harry Wilson dons the No.8, while Rob Valetini to switch to blindside flank and Pete Samu at the openside. Valentini and Samu are very aggressive customers and both have the ability to get their team over the advantage line. Scrumhalf Jake Gordon again starts alongside flyhalf Bernard Foley – the pair will have to be in fine form as they try dictate the play.
Head to head:
@rugby365com: New Zealand by five points.
New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Will Jordan, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Jordie Barrett, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, 23 Sevu Reece.
Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Tom Wright, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Pete Samu, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Cadeyrn Neville, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 David Porecki, 1 James Slipper (captain).
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Pone Fa’amausili, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Fraser McReight, 21 Nic White, 22 Reece Hodge, 23 Jordan Petaia.
Date: Saturday, September 24
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19.05 (17.05 AEST; 07.05 GMT)
Expected weather: Cold and light rain with a high of 18°C and a low of 11°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Matthieu Raynal (France), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
* Additional reporting by AFP & stats provided by Opta Data