Saturday's Test in Wellington will feature a debut, a centurion and in all likelihood an All Black win – but Australia may strike back.
Saturday's Test in Wellington will feature a debut, a centurion and in all likelihood an All Black victory. However, Ewen McKenzie's Wallabies will be hurting after their first Test performance and are eager to strike back.
New Zealand will be keen to win their first home match and in the process take an early position of strength in this year's Rugby Championship. Conversely, McKenzie's young charges are in desperate need of an improved performance that will validate their selection.
Both sets of coaching staff have shown faith in the combinations that did battle a week ago, which saw New Zealand sail to a convincing 47-29 victory. The only changes have been injury enforced, with New Zealand being more affected.
Scott Fardy will earn his first start for the Wallabies, replacing the injured Hugh McMeniman on the flank, in the only change made to the Australian starting XV. The slight reshuffle caused by the injury allows Kane Douglas to take his place on the bench.
It is a sign of faith shown my McKenzie who is backing his new-look team to deliver on the promises that he made during Robbie Deans' tenure.
McKenzie emphasised the point that he believes in his players by saying: “Right now, I'm more concerned with how each individual responds to the defeat. We need to fix aspects of our performance but we will get better the more time we spend together.”
He did, however, say that players would not get more opportunities than they deserve. “You only get a finite number of chances at Test level so it's important that you don't let the moment pass. That's been made very clear this week as has the expectation of the level of improvement we need from each player within the squad,” said McKenzie.
This last comment may refer to Matt Toomua in particular, who has been selected ahead of Quade Cooper, a long time favourite of McKenzie. This Test gives Toomua possibly his last chance to get the better of his opposite number before Cooper is given a start in the number ten jersey.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has stuck to the theory of not 'fixing' anything that isn't broken. In line with this belief, only two enforced changes have been made to his starting XV that comprehensively defeated Australia a week ago.
Brodie Retallick comes into the second-row for Luke Romano who has injured his groin. The big change however is at fly-half where Tom Taylor will wear the number ten jersey on debut. The slightly more experienced Colin Slade offers cover from the bench, in the event that the injury curse of New Zealand fly-halves continues.
There are a number of changes on the bench, in what seems to be a rotational policy. Hooker Dane Coles, fit-again prop Wyatt Crockett, Jeremy Thrush and the exciting Charles Piutau all come into the match-day 23.
Hansen has a lot of faith in the depth of his squad and is expecting a polished debut from his young fly-half.
“We want to firstly congratulate Tom on his selection in the starting XV,” said Hansen.
“He is mentally tough and plays the game with a lot of confidence and maturity.
“These factors, along with his assured goal-kicking under pressure, has made this an easy selection. We have every faith that he will handle the occasion with aplomb.”
New Zealand's flashy backs often overshadow the hard work done by the big men up front. This Test will be Tony Woodcock's 100th, joining the exclusive club which currently only includes Kevin Mealamu, Mils Muliaina and Richie McCaw.
Woodcock is one of the finest loose-head props to have graced the game and his coach appreciates all that he brings to the squad.
“He (Woodcock) is a hugely respected player within the group who always puts the team first. It has been business as usual for him and the team this week, but we will enjoy acknowledging his achievement with him after the game,” said Hansen.
The All Blacks will have a great deal of motivation to give their loosehead a result to celebrate. The momentum they carry into this encounter, coupled with it being the Test where New Zealand Rugby earns its fourth centurion suggests that it will also be the day that they retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: Richie McCaw had his first taste of international rugby in almost a year last time out. The run would have done him the world of good and it was clear to see the All Blacks captain getting used to the pace of Test rugby as the match progressed. We're sure he will have a serious effect on this encounter and have his hands on another trophy at the end of the 80 minutes.
For Australia: If the Wallabies manage to restrict McCaw's influence at the breakdown and in the process get some quick ball, then their talented back-line will be able to show their skill. It will be up to the midfield to create opportunities for the likes of Israel Folau on the outside. Even if he is presented with a one-on-one, he will show why he is so highly rated as an incredible finisher.
Head-to-head: Matt Toomua vs Tom Taylor. In the Super Rugby final and again in the first Rugby Championship Test, the Australian fly-half Toomua was out-played by Aaron Cruden. The injury to Cruden as well as his usual back-up Beauden Barrett, means that Toomua will square off against Tom Taylor who will be making his Test debut. This will be Toomua's best chance of gaining some ascendancy over a Kiwi counterpart and could tilt the momentum is Australia's favour.
2013: New Zealand won 47-29 in Sydney
2012: 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
2010: Australia won 26-24 in Hong Kong
2010: New Zealand won 23-22 in Sydney
2010: New Zealand won 20-10 in Christchurch
2010: New Zealand won 49-28 in Melbourne
2009: New Zealand won 32-19 in Tokyo
Prediction: Australia will look to restore some pride and prove that they deserve to be in Ewan McKenzie's plans for the future, but New Zealand will be too good at home. New Zealand to win by 10.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Charles Piutau.
Australia: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott