Preview: New Zealand v Australia

Date published: August 13 2015

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They have already wrestled the Rugby Championship trophy from New Zealand. Now Australia are looking to do the same with the Bledisloe Cup.

It won't be easy due to a number of factors. Let's kick-off with Eden Park being a fortress for the All Blacks as they last lost there in 1994 against France, with Australia not having got the better of New Zealand at this venue since 1986. Furthermore, they also lost 51-20 at the ground last year in a real hiding.

Add in the prospect of a wounded home side and finally and most importantly the team selections from the respective head coaches this weekend and the head leans towards a successful revenge mission for Steve Hansen, who is boosted by the return of form inside centre Ma'a Nonu. That's huge for them.

In contrast, Australia's selection is puzzling with this trophy on the line as new combinations are thrown in a week after their best showing this season. Nic White rightly gets a run ahead of Nick Phipps at scrum-half but lining him up alongside Quade Cooper, who hasn't enjoyed the best of times at this venue seems a risk. On his start, The New Zealand Herald have led with the headline, "What are they thinking?". Indeed.

Matt Toomua moved to fly-half next to his fellow Brumby White might have been better suited to put the Wallabies in a position to claim the Bledisloe alongside centre Matt Giteau, with Cooper coming off what is an impressive bench for the closing stages when one moment of magic is required. But, of course, this is Cheika's call as he backs his pivot to deliver in front of what promises to be a hostile crowd in Auckland.

We say with a fair amount of confidence that had the All Blacks won last week, their side this Saturday would have been significantly different. Players such as Dane Coles, Owen Franks, Aaron Smith and Dan Carter possibly would have been told to put their feet up while their understudies got a run. As it is, the prospect of going into the World Cup on the back of two straight defeats is simply too great a concern to take chances.

Hansen will be desperate to avoid that prospect – they last lost back-to-back games in 2011 – and won't have required healing miracles such as the one going on in Fiji with Waisake Naholo. They know where they slipped up last week as missed tackles on Sekope Kepu and White cost them a fourth Rugby Championship on the spin. And back at fortress Eden Park they should respond with a much-improved showing that heals Sydney wounds.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Saturday brings a huge opportunity to Victor Vito, who lines up on the flank alongside Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. A forward with unrivalled skills and agility, Vito can put down a marker in Auckland, maybe not to start in the key World Cup matches but to be a bench option. In the backline, Julian Savea will want to improve on his Sydney effort with the same going for Dan Carter.

For Australia: It surely has to be last chance saloon for Quade Cooper in terms of nailing down the ten jersey, doesn't it? Well coach Michael Cheika clearly believes in his Reds fly-half and with Bernard Foley not firing and Matt Toomua proving to be an excellent bench option, maybe a steady performance at Eden Park would see Cooper hit the front. Number eight Wycliff Palu also gets a chance to impress while Nic White is likely to get a full game to prove his class. A reliable kicker out of hand and off the tee, he will hope to go well.

Head-to-head: After two tries last week Nehe Milner-Skudder comes up against Henry Speight in Auckland, with the Brumbies finisher preferred ahead of Drew Mitchell. Both are lethal with ball in hand and expect Speight to pop up off the shoulder of Australia's first receiver, looking to bust holes. Milner-Skudder is less up the guts but can equally punish opposition as Super Rugby found out this past year.

Team news: New Zealand make three changes to the XV which started last week. Ma'a Nonu returns for the injured Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Whitelock comes in for Luke Romano, while Victor Vito replaces Jerome Kaino, who moves to the bench. Joining Kaino on the pine is hooker Keven Mealamu and prop Wyatt Crockett, in for Codie Taylor and Ben Franks respectively, while the versatile Colin Slade comes in for Beauden Barrett.

Michael Cheika has made six changes to his Wallaby XV as playmakers Quade Cooper and Matt Toomua replace Bernard Foley and Matt Giteau at ten and twelve while Will Skelton switches with Dean Mumm to start with James Horwill in the second-row. Nic White and Henry Speight, as well as Wycliff Palu, have all been named in the run-on side for the first time this year. Kane Douglas has been included on the replacements bench.

Previous results:

2015: Australia won 27-19 in Sydney
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

Prediction: The hosts will be pleased to see David Pocock not starting after his stupendous performance last weekend. Yes he will come onto the field and make an impact but weighing up the factors and line-ups, the All Blacks should have enough to win this fixture by 12 points.

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.

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

Date: Saturday, August 15
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

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