New Zealand v Australia preview: New-look All Blacks to continue dominance in Bledisloe II

David Skippers
New Zealand v Australia Bledisloe Cup II image 2023.jpg

All Blacks fly-half Damian McKenzie and Wallabies counterpart Carter Gordon.

Although the All Blacks have secured the Bledisloe Cup for the 21st successive year, after last week’s win in Melbourne, they will be hoping to hammer home their dominance against Australia when the two sides face off again on Saturday.

The Bledisloe Cup returns to Dunedin for the first time since 2017, in a rare afternoon Test at Forsyth Barr Stadium, and the home side will be brimming with confidence after blowing the Wallabies away just six days ago.

Despite clinching the Bledisloe Cup yet again, the All Blacks will not be lacking in motivation as they are set to play in their last Test on New Zealand soil before heading off to the Rugby World Cup in France.

This encounter against the Wallabies will also be an opportunity for the hosts to show off their depth as they have made numerous changes to their run-on side, with Will Jordan, Ardie Savea and Brodie Retallick the only players who have retained their places in the starting line-up.

By contrast, the Wallabies, and in particular their head coach Eddie Jones, will be in a desperate mood as they are yet to taste success under his guidance in 2023.

Australia have lost all three of their matches so far this year – in the Rugby Championship against South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand – but despite still being winless under Jones, they have made few alterations to their starting XV after that Bledisloe loss in Melbourne.

Saturday’s run-on side is one of the Wallabies’ most inexperienced starting line-ups in the professional era, with just 277 caps amassed between them. Australia also have a new captain in scrum-half Tate McDermott and they will have to play out of their skins if they want to cause a shock against their highly confident opponents.

Where the game will be won

If the Wallabies want to upset the apple cart then they really have to show considerable improvement in all departments, while the All Blacks will be hoping for a repeat of what worked for them in Bledisloe I. Although Australia showed some nice touches on attack during the early stages of the opening half in Melbourne, they could not sustain that onslaught for the full 80 minutes as they were met by a solid defensive effort from the All Blacks.

Although there are some changes to the home side’s pack, their scrummaging, lineout play and high work-rate at the rucks, mauls and breakdown laid an excellent platform for their backs last weekend and they will be targeting a similar all-round performance in Dunedin. If the Wallabies do not come to the party and at least match the All Blacks in those departments, it will be another long day at the office for them.

Last time they met

What they said

The Wallabies might be struggling but All Blacks back-row Luke Jacobson, who starts on the bench in this fixture, expects a tough challenge from Jones’ charges and believes they will come with a huge challenge at the breakdown.

“I think so, they probably got a little bit of purchase from their breakdown stuff on the weekend that they will probably look to come at us again,” he said.

“But, look, also on the flipside we probably weren’t as good at some of that stuff that we would like to be.

“We will be looking to take a step up there, and I am sure they will come out and try to take it out up front as they do. And we will be ready for that.”

Meanwhile, Wallabies hooker Dave Porecki stressed they are keen to bounce back after last weekend’s defeat in Melbourne.

“Whilst we’re frustrated with the result, we are building in the right direction and there are elements in our game that we are happy with,” he said.

“But against a team like the All Blacks you need to stay in it for 80 minutes.

“That’s our main focus. Turn that first half, first 30 minutes, into a longer period of play.

“We’ve shown what we’re capable of as a team and it’s exciting for us.”

Players to watch

With the All Blacks ringing the changes for this game, this will be an important fixture for several players with World Cup spots up for grabs. One man who is almost certain to be included in that group is Will Jordan, who heads into Saturday’s clash in outstanding form after scoring 23 tries in as many Tests. After impressing on the right wing, he is set to make his first Test appearance at full-back where he has shone for the Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific. His selection at the back for New Zealand is a popular one amongst All Black fans and he will be hoping to continue his rich vein of form in his new Test position.

Meanwhile, taking over from Jordan on the right wing is Shaun Stevenson, who will be making his long-awaited Test debut when he takes to the field in this match. Like Jordan, the 26-year-old is equally at home at full-back and that is where he caught the eye in most of his matches for the Chiefs this season. However, it’s in the number 14 jersey that he gets an opportunity and he will be determined to transfer his club form to the international arena in a bid to convince Foster that he can do a job for the team at the World Cup.

Another newbie in the All Blacks’ starting line-up is Samipeni Finau, who finally gets his chance at the highest level after he too played a prominent role for the Chiefs during their campaign. The 24-year-old is a bruising blindside flanker who enjoys the physical nature of the game and has the ability to put in big hits on defence, gain momentum as a ball carrier on attack and also win valuable possession in the lineouts. He will have to hit the ground running against the Wallabies if he wants to be in the mix for the World Cup squad.

In the Wallaby camp, expect experienced inside centre Samu Kerevi to lead the charge in the backline as the Wallabies look to end their misery against their trans-Tasman rivals. A powerful ball carrier, who seldom gets stopped in his tracks, Kerevi’s attacking ability will be crucial especially in New Zealand’s half where he will be expected to give his side valuable momentum. The 29-year-old is also an outstanding distributer and will expected to unleash his dangerous outside backs.

As his team’s new captain there will be plenty of pressure on the shoulders of young scrum-half Tate McDermott, whose leadership will have to be at its best from the outset. Taking over from experienced skippers like Michael Hooper and Allan Alaalatoa is not an easy task but, despite being inexperienced at international level, McDermott is no stranger to captaincy as he led the Reds in Super Rugby earlier this season. Obviously, his decision making will be crucial but McDermott must also lead by example and his attacking play, box-kicking and service to his outside backs will have to be of a high standard throughout.

Also keep an eye on up-and-coming back-row Tom Hooper, who came to the fore with a strong defensive performance in a losing cause last week. The 21-year-old shone on the blindside flank for the Brumbies this year but was picked on the openside for the Melbourne Test. Despite playing in that unfamiliar role, Hooper emptied the tank as he finished that game with a match-high 32 tackles made. He has been picked on the blindside for this weekend’s encounter and will be keen to replicate that defensive performance while also trying to make an impact on attack.

Main head-to-head

After making his first start in the Test arena, rookie fly-half Carter Gordon gets another opportunity to make his mark for the Wallabies. He goes up against a seasoned campaigner in All Blacks number 10 Damian McKenzie. Gordon showed plenty of promise for the Melbourne Rebels in Super Rugby Pacific and his first Test appearances as a replacement against South Africa and Argentina, but was in for a rude awakening when he started against New Zealand last week. He has the support of Jones, who fiercely defended Carter at his team announcement on Thursday, and the 22-year-old will have to deliver the goods as the Wallabies’ chief playmaker in this fixture.

Meanwhile, his direct opponent McKenzie will also be hoping for a polished performance as he makes his first appearance for his country since their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Mendoza. The All Blacks claimed a 41-12 victory but it took McKenzie some time to get going in that match. His goal-kicking in particular was not of its usual high standard, especially during the early stages of that fixture, but he improved as the game progressed and eventually hit his straps. He found his range off the kicking tee and also shone on attack, and his main goal will be to deliver a similar performance from the outset on Saturday.

Prediction

The All Blacks have made several changes and rested most of their first choice players but they still have plenty of class throughout their ranks. Although the Wallabies have retained most of the players who were on duty last week, the home side will have too much firepower. New Zealand to win by 15 points.

Previous results

2023: New Zealand won 38-7 in Melbourne
2022: New Zealand won 40-14 in Auckland
2022: New Zealand won 39-37 in Melbourne
2021: New Zealand won 38-21 in Perth
2021: New Zealand won 57-22 in Auckland
2021: New Zealand won 33-25 in Auckland
2020: Australia won 24-22 in Brisbane
2020: New Zealand won 43-5 in Sydney

The teams

New Zealand: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Tamaiti Williams
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Dallas McLeod

Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Tate McDermott (c), 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Tom Hooper, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 David Porecki, 1 Angus Bell
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Izaia Perese

Date: Saturday, August 5
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 14:35 local (03:35 BST, 02:35 GMT)
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

READ MORE: Rugby Championship awards: Scott Barrett and All Blacks claim top gongs