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Preview: Australia v New Zealand

19th October 2012 06:21

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All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium

In Brisbane: All Blacks

With that world record 18 victories in their sights, the All Blacks go in hunt of moving to within one of that target when they face Australia on Saturday.

Beating the Wallabies this weekend would equal the mark set by the 1969 All Blacks and the Boks of 1998. Lithuania hold the official highest total while Cyprus (15 international wins) will no doubt keep knocking on the door, so New Zealand are not alone in striving for global bragging rights.

Speaking of landmarks, the fixture at Suncorp will see Keven Mealamu make his 100th appearance for his country while Nathan Sharpe will wear the gold for one last time in front of Australian fans on home soil. How the veteran lock will hope it's not to be during their 100th loss to New Zealand.

The Force forward, who recently announced that he would further prolong his international career until after the end-of-year tour, will lace up his boots alongside Sitaleki Timani in a pack that has seen more than its fair share of injuries. This week, it's Saia Faingaa and Ben Alexander.

Injury nightmares have not ended there either as James O'Connor revealed on Thursday that he would not feature on the upcoming tour due to a hamstring issue, which means he joins scrum-half Will Genia and utility-back Berrick Barnes in definitely missing November games against France, England, Italy and Wales. Should their rotten luck continue, a testing winter month in Europe lies in wait.

New Zealand could not be in more of a contrasting state going into this contest, as an unbeaten Rugby Championship and players fit and in form makes theirs a happy camp. They seem settled and even boast the luxury of experimenting instead of changes being forced upon them. In comes tighthead Charlie Faumuina, who has waited patiently for his start while there is one other change of Mealamu in for Andrew Hore as they look for revenge for that 25-20 defeat 14 months ago when the Wallabies won the Tri-Nations.

Sam Whitelock touched on that loss this week so by no means will this just be a warm-down with the Bledisloe Cup already safely locked up for another year, the Kiwis want to make a statement. Can they be beaten? It seems unlikely due to the cohesive unit the All Blacks have become. Steve Hansen is also timing his tweaks perfectly - case in point being the inclusion of Hosea Gear over a much less experienced Julian Savea for their game in Soweto. That move proved inspired as Gear deserved his return, shone and has ultimately retained his place after causing SA a great deal of bother. Savea will get other chances.

Yes, we can say what we like about the Wallabies' injury issues, South Africa's selection arguments and Argentina's rebirth but not enough credit has been paid to Hansen in our opinion. Look back at 2003 and 2007 for a moment and how those English and Springbok teams struggled to remain at the World Cup bar they had set themselves. New Zealand meanwhile have gone about their business post-Graham Henry, with Hansen looking set to lead a group capable of greater standards right up until 2015's main event in England.

Ones to watch:

For Australia: Barring the absence of David Pocock, this looks as close as Australia are going to get to their starting back-row line-up. Wycliff Palu returns on Saturday after a long absence and forms a well-balanced trio alongside the busy Michael Hooper and in-form Scott Higginbotham and Robbie Deans will be hoping they click in quick time. When fully fit, Palu is a destructive and intelligent carrier so one hopes he plays to his potential behind a lock who will be playing his last game on home soil for Australia, Nathan Sharpe.

For New Zealand: Kieran Read and Daniel Carter were quite simply superb against South Africa in Soweto. Carter had his swagger back while Read was his consistent self at the base, despite almost bombing a certain try for Cory Jane before recovering to find Ma'a Nonu on his other shoulder. Carter meanwhile was once again back to his mesmeric as his set-up of Conrad Smith's try from slick hands being one of the highlights from last time out. All Blacks fans and neutrals hope for more displays of simple yet brilliant rugby again.

Head-to-head: We arrive at hooker for this battle as the powerful Tatafu Polota-Nau collides with the man making his 100th Test appearance for the All Blacks, Keven Mealamu. The Blues veteran has been handed the starting spot on Saturday and will be only the third All Black to reach the distinguished milestone, following captain Richie McCaw and full-back Mils Muliaina who made their 100th appearances during last year's successful Rugby World Cup. Polota-Nau and Mealamu know each other's games well but that shouldn't take anything away from their battle. On the other end of the scale, two players who have never faced each other on the international stage, Nick Cummins and Hosea Gear, clash on the wing. Both are high-impact entertainers which bodes well for a decent scrap this Saturday.

Recent results:

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 are an unprecedented 7/1 to win at home. New Zealand by 15!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Pat McCabe, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 James Slipper, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Kane Douglas, 19 Dave Dennis, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Drew Mitchell.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Owen Franks, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.

Date: Saturday, October 20
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 20:00 (10:00 GMT)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)

By Adam Kyriacou

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