Preview: Australia v New Zealand
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: Australia aim to make a flying start against New Zealand in Sydney this weekend.
The Wallabies are aiming to kick-start their quest to end the All Blacks’ 15 years of Bledisloe Cup domination.
The Wallabies head into Saturday’s fixture, which also doubles as the Rugby Championship opener, as underdogs – after failing to win the trophy since 2002.
The hosts have started the three-Test series poorly in recent years, but captain Michael Hooper said the Wallabies were fired-up and ready to show they are a team on the rise against the world champions.
“I’m going to come out all guns blazing,” he told reporters.
“We’re ready, we’re good to go… bring it on.”
Sydney has been a happy hunting ground for the New Zealanders in recent years, defeating Australia 42-8 in 2016 and 54-34 last year.
“We owe the Sydney crowd something,” said utility back Matt Toomua, who will start on the bench.
“Unfortunately we haven’t done well here in a little while, so it’s time to give them something to cheer about.”
The Wallabies will take heart from their 23-18 win over the All Blacks in the final Bledisloe Test in Brisbane last October, which followed a narrow 29-35 loss in Dunedin two months earlier.
While Australia has not won back-to-back Test matches against New Zealand since 2001, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen insists they deserve to be favourites on the back of the Brisbane win.
“I think Australia are a better side than people give them credit for,” he said, predicting “a good gutsy Test match”.
“They’ve improved a heck of a lot. They’ve done a lot of hard work on their running lines and their core set-piece roles, their scrum has got better and they’ve quickened up their line-out a lot.”
Hansen said Australia were better prepared than their previous two Sydney outings after warming up with a trial match earlier this month.
“I think it’s a smart play. They’ll be hoping they get out of the blocks a lot quicker,” he said.
Cheika has been forced to throw loose-head prop Tom Robertson into the fray for just his third Test start after Scott Sio hurt his shoulder.
He has also gambled on moving Reece Hodge into the centres after injuries to Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi, created an untested partnership with Kurtley Beale.
Hooper and wing Dane Haylett-Petty both passed fitness tests, with the skipper dismissing suggestions he could be rusty after being sidelined for more than a month.
“I’m feeling great about what I do and I think I can make a difference in the game,” he said.
The Wallabies also have inspirational flanker David Pocock contesting the breakdown after missing last year’s Bledisloe while on sabbatical.
The All Blacks have introduced their own rookie centre by calling up Jack Goodhue after injury ruled out Sonny Bill Williams.
But Goodhue will be playing alongside Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty in an established centres partnership that helped win this year’s Super Rugby title.
Hansen described the combination as “rock-solid” and did not expect Goodhue to be overawed in his second Test appearance.
Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick, who missed the series against France in June, return to the side with Read resuming the captaincy.
The New Zealanders will have added motivation when Sam Whitelock earns his 100th Test cap, the first All Black lock to reach the milestone.
Players to watch:
For Australia: You will always keep your eyes on fullback Israel Folau, for both his attacking and defensive abilities. However, the key backs are Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley, both in playmaking roles. David Pocock and Michael Hooper in tandem could cause plenty of trouble for the All Blacks.
For New Zealand: Ben Smith, for his experience and calm demeanour, is invaluable to the All Black cause. Jack Goodhue will want to show he deserves the start. Kieran Read in his return will also be closely observed – especially by his vast army of fans. The lock pairing of Samuel Whitelock and Brodie Retallick could be the real difference between the sides.
Head to head: At fullback Israel Folau (Australia) against Ben Smith (New Zealand) is already worth the entry fee. Then we take it up a step with the flyhalf battle between Bernard Foley (Australia) and Beauden Barrett (New Zealand). The breakdown contest will also be crucial – where Australia will field a double-barrel assault of David Pocock and Michael Hooper against Sam Cane – will have to rely on some assistance from Read and Liam Squire.
A look at history:
Prediction: Australia beat New Zealand in their most recent meeting, October 2017 in Brisbane, they’ve not won back to back matches against the All Blacks since 2000-2001 when they beat them in three games on the spin. Since the British & Irish Lions visited in 2013 the All Blacks are the only other side to play the Wallabies at this Sydney venue, this will be the sixth clash between the sides here since that loss to the Lions. In their three Tests against France in June the All Blacks scored 77 aggregate points in the second half of the matches, conceding just seven themselves and keeping the French scoreless in two of those games. New Zealand averaged 14.7 clean breaks per game during their June series against France, the most of any tier one team during the mid-year Tests, while the Wallabies averaged the fewest (4 per game). Israel Folau has scored six tries in 15 games against New Zealand, just four players have crossed the whitewash against the All Blacks more often – Adam Ashley, Cooper (9), David Campese (8), Bryan Habana (8), Matt Burke (7). Australia will be competitive, for the first 60 minutes. As per usual, New Zealand will produce a few crucial scores in the last 20 minutes and win by 15 points … perhaps even more.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Tui, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Jack Maddocks.
All Blacks: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Karl Tu’inukuake, 18 Tim Perry, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Saturday, August 18
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19.45 (21.45 NZ time; 09.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny; windy in the afternoon. High of 22°C and a low of 9°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
@rugby365 & Agence France-Presse
* Stats provided by Opta Sports