Preview: Australia v New Zealand

Date published: October 18 2014

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'Four more years' was George Gregan's famous refrain in 2003 but that's how long it's been since Australia last beat New Zealand.

To put it into perspective, six of the All Black starting line-up this weekend had not yet been capped the last time the Wallabies were victorious over their trans-Tasman foes, including the likes of Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith and Julian Savea, all of whom have since established themselves as arguably the world's best in their position.

Australia have obviously been through two coaches since, with Robbie Deans and Ewen McKenzie both departed, so can Michael Cheika improve on a run of ten games without a win in his first Bledisloe fixture?

He will be on home soil in Sydney, and as dominant as New Zealand have been in this fixture, they've been pushed much harder away from home.

Last year Colin Slade's last-second conversion gave them the narrowest of wins in Brisbane in what turned out to be McKenzie's final game, while the 12-12 draw to open the Rugby Championship was something of an escape given the visitors played 20 minutes a man down in Sydney.

This year it's tricky to say which team comes into the game in the better form. New Zealand were comfortable against Argentina except when it came to defending the rolling maul, while they were knocked down but not quite out by South Africa before coming back in Johannesburg.

It's been a similar story for Australia, who looked to be headed for defeat at home to the Springboks only to fight back at the death. It's a sign of the reputation of the teams that the All Blacks' win is regarded as the world's best team getting the job done while not at their best, while Australia required a South African collapse to triumph in Brisbane.

Even the Wallabies' comprehensive win over Argentina wasn't quite as dominant as the final scoreline suggested, but the bonus-point success means it's winner-takes-all in the Rugby Championiship this weekend.

Of course victory in a World Cup year is not necessarily a great omen. No team ever managed the double of the Tri-Nations and World Cup in the same season, mainly because the All Blacks used to win the former before suffering heartbreak in the latter.

But that brings us back to 'four more years'. Gregan's call in 2003 referred to the World Cup semi-final upset, in the same ground as Saturday's encounter. Four years ago Australia claimed the final Tri-Nations crown by beating New Zealand in Brisbane 25-20.

A few months later that result would pale into insignificance as the Wallabies were suffocated in a World Cup semi-final rematch, and depending on the outcome of Pool A later this year, the teams could yet meet again at the same stage in England.

Psychologically, this match is probably more important for the Wallabies, who haven't endured this long a barren run against the All Blacks in nearly two decades.

Another loss and mentally Australia might not believe they can beat this New Zealand team any more, even if they'll get another crack next weekend back in Auckland.

The question is, can the Wallabies gain parity up front, at the breakdown and on the gainline, to give themselves a chance.

Against the Boks they were battered and overpowered for an hour, and if the same happens here, there will be no comeback. Not that New Zealand had it easy against the same Springboks.

And yet the near first string All Black pack looks to be finding its feet, with Kieran Read and Jerome Kaino stepping things up during the Test season, while Richie McCaw continues to fire as he prepares to match Brian O'Driscoll's Test appearance record with a 141st cap.

Players to watch: 

For Australia: In Argentina Bernard Foley was given a chance in the fly-half jersey, but really struggled from the kicking tee. While Foley and half-back partner Nick Phipps look to be the favourites for the Wallaby starting roles at the World Cup, poor goal-kicking will be a real concern heading into the pool of death. Foley has proven in the past that he can kick under pressure, especially for the Waratahs, but he'll need to find his range against the All Blacks, who will punish Australia otherwise.

In the pack, the most intriguing aspect of Michael Cheika's team selection is the decision to include both Michael Hooper and David Pocock. After the former served his one-match ban – Manly were no doubt devastated to be deprived of him last weekend – the pair will start together for the first time in a Test. Pocock is the man to switch positions as he moves to number eight, but it's a tactic which might work. While both are known as traditional opensides, they offer very different skillsets. Pocock remains the world's best on the ground and at the breakdown, while also offering a powerful tight carrying game. Hooper, as both his supporters and detractors agree, is almost a third centre with his linking game and support play. From a balance point of view, it's easy to see them combining, and given the lack of a genuine option at number eight, the decision makes sense. How much it will affect the Wallaby line-out is genuine concern, although in Dean Mumm and Scott Fardy, the Wallabies have options.

For New Zealand: This will be the long-awaited debut for Nehe Milner-Skudder, the Hurricanes flyer with possibly the quickest feet in Super Rugby. While his size remains a concern, Milner-Skudder is as dangerous a counter-attacker as there is, and this will be a great test for him in a huge game. The Wallabies will be well aware of what he can do, stopping him is an altogether different matter, and Milner-Skudder will be keen to impress in what is essentially a World Cup audition.

At the other end of the experience scale, Richie McCaw will equal BOD's appearance record, and will be determined to leave the Bledisloe Cup in kiwi hands when he retires. The All Black skipper has occasionally looked his age this season, and yet is street-wise enough to make the difference for his team still, with two tries already in the competition, both from line-out moves. The battle with Hooper and Pocock will be fascinating, but even if the latter gets the edge on the deck, expect McCaw to show his value elsewhere.

Head-to-head: There will be some interested onlookers from Toulon this weekend where former centre Sonny Bill Williams will line up against current midfielder Matt Giteau, in the absence of future signing Ma'a Nonu. SBW did little at Super Rugby level to earn an All Black call-up, but impressed when given the chance against Samoa and Argentina. This weekend he'll start alongside Conrad Smith, and he'll relish the chance to run at Bernard Foley and Giteau in midfield.

The returning Australian playmaker is back after missing the clash with the Pumas, and will hope to cement his place at the World Cup having not entirely convinced against the Springboks. Giteau showed he still has the vision with one searing break, but with a more traditional fly-half in Foley, he will get more of a chance to pull the strings this week. In Tevita Kuridrani and Israel Folau, he has the firepower outside him, not to mention Drew Mitchell, in his first Wallaby start in three years. If Giteau can get them going, the Wallabies will have a chance.

Team news: Having served his one-week ban, Michael Hooper is recalled to the starting line-up where he will join David Pocock, who shifts across to number eight. Elsewhere Matt Giteau is back in at inside centre, Drew Mitchell starts on the wing, while there is a new lock partnership with James Horwill and Dean Mumm starting in place of the injured Rob Simmons and the dropped Will Skelton. Finally Scott Sio deservedly gets the nod at loosehead and will look to continue his recent impressive scrummaging displays, with Sekope Kepu returning at tighthead.

For New Zealand the main changes come in the backline, with a debut for the exciting Nehe Milner-Skudder on the wing. He will be joined by Hurricanes team-mate Julian Savea, who is fit to reclaim his place, while Ben Smith shifts to full-back. Sonny Bill Williams replaces the injured Ma'a Nonu, and Dan Carter is back in the side at fly-half. The pack is almost unchanged, with Luke Romano replacing James Broadhurst at lock.

Previous results:

2014: New Zealand won 29-28 in Brisbane
2014: New Zealand won 51-20 in Auckland
2014: The sides drew 12-12 in Sydney
2013: New Zealand won 41-33 in Dunedin
2013: New Zealand won 27-16 in Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 47-29 in Sydney
2012: The sides drew 18-18 in Brisbane
2012: New Zealand won 22-0 in Auckland
2012: New Zealand won 27-19 in Sydney
2011: New Zealand won 20-6 in Auckland
2011: Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane
2011: New Zealand won 30-14 in Auckland

Prediction: As we've mentioned, this is probably more important for Australia than New Zealand and on home soil they twice came close last season. Still, for Richie McCaw's record-equalling Test, and with a formidable pack, we think the All Blacks will do enough. New Zealand by 5!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c) 1 Scott Sio,
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale.

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.

Date: Saturday, 8 August
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-Off: 20:05 local (07:05 ART, 10:05 GMT, 12:05 SAST, 22:05 NZST)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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