New Zealand will be out to break the record for most wins in a row when they take on Australia at Eden Park on Saturday.
Although the Rugby Championship is done and dusted the final game of the Bledisloe Cup still needs to be played with plenty on the line. The All Black juggernaut is on a 17 match winning streak and seem to be hurtling towards finally breaking the 18 match winning record, never before achieved by a Tier 1 Nation.
South Africa and New Zealand have both come close to breaking the record but neither have been able to accomplish it yet.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen says the chance of breaking the record has breathed new life back into the camp.
“We’ve got two choices, we can try to ignore and then enjoy it if it happens or we can say ‘this is an opportunity’,” he said.
“And we’ve chosen to say, ‘Yep, it is an opportunity. It is there right in front of us, what are we going to do about it?’
“Obviously Australia are going to have something to say about it but we’ve got something to say about it too and if we go out there and prepare the best we have and can, and then go and play the best we can, and if we can, if we’re good enough we’ll win and if we’re not good enough then we have to accept that and work out where we went wrong.”
There will be added incentive for Australia after they halted New Zealand’s run to break the record previously.
Hansen reportedly knew what changes Australia coach Cheika was going to make before the announcement of the side and when asked about it Cheika had a tongue in cheek reply.
“Really? The bug is obviously not working anymore so he must have had someone there watching (referring to the bug that was found in the New Zealand change room before an earlier Test between the two sides), I don’t know … He must have known somehow,” he said.
“I’m not quite sure because the bug is gone. We stayed in Double Bay and did a bit of a broom around and couldn’t find any. He made good on the lotto tickets, get the numbers.”
The Australia coach spoke about omitting fly-half Quade Cooper to the bench and moving Bernard Foley to 10.
“Maybe it’s not about whether Bernard was a better option than Quade but more about the combination changing, just to look at something different,” he said.
“I just wanted to look at a different feel for this game, a few different ideas.
“I think testing new ideas on the biggest stage sometimes, some people may not think is the right time, but I think that’s the place where you’ll see if it really is something that can work in the future.”
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: After only five Test caps Anton Lienert-Brown already looks like a seasoned veteran in the New Zealand midfield. It’s almost as though the young Chiefs centre was created in a laboratory to play rugby. He is tall is and big yet lightning fast on the field, seems to have the reactions of a bird of prey and his long arms allow him to squeeze out an offload no matter what situation he is in on the field. He was second in try-assists in the Rugby Championship while giving off plenty of offloads and even scoring a try in his first tournament.
For Australia: Michael Hooper finished the Rugby Championship with the most tackles made, an auspicious record considering his competition in the tournament. He was a stand out performer for the Wallabies with the second most turnovers made and providing an astute attacking option for Australia as he finished the Rugby Championship with two try assists. Hooper, together with Pocock, was responsible for his side’s last win over the All Blacks last year when Hooper dominated the breakdown, slowing down New Zealand’s ball and didn’t allow them to employ their famous quick attack as he dominated the breakdown.
New Zealand have made three changes to their side. All the changes are in the back line with Julian Savea returning in the 11 jersey at the expense of Waisake Naholo who drops out of the squad. Aaron Cruden will act as the replacement fly-half with centre Malakai Fekitoa also coming onto the bench.
Australia have switched their backline with Reece Hodge starting at inside centre, Bernard Foley shifts back to fly-half and wing Henry Speight earning his first Wallabies cap since the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Nick Phipps takes the nine jersey with Will Genia’s departure to France. Australia have some super subs on the bench with Quade Cooper and David Pocock poised to make an impact.
2016: New Zealand won 29-9 in Wellington
2016: New Zealand won 42-8 in Sydney
2015: New Zealand won 34-17 at Twickenham
2015: New Zealand won 41-13 in Auckland
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
2011: New Zealand won 20-6 in Auckland
2011: Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane
2011: New Zealand won 30-14 in Auckland
Prediction: With the pressure off Australia, they should put in a valiant performance to try and stop New Zealand grabbing the record. But this New Zealand side looks near unbeatable and with the added influence of the All Blacks’ happy hunting ground, Eden Park, it should see them through. New Zealand by 15!
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Malakai Fekitoa
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Lopeti Timani, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Ala’alatoa, 19 Rob Simmons, 20 David Pocock, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Sefa Naivalu
Date: Saturday, October 22
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa