Preview: Australia v New Zealand

Date published: August 19 2016

Australia begin the defence of their Rugby Championship title in a highly anticipated clash against their trans-Tasman rivals, New Zealand, in Sydney on Saturday.

Although both sides will be keen to hit the ground running in this Bledisloe Cup showdown, the Wallabies will be on a mission to redeem themselves in front of their home fans after they suffered a humiliating 3-0 series defeat against England in Australia during June.

By contrast, New Zealand head into this clash brimming with confidence as they claimed a 3-0 series victory over Wales earlier this year. 

Although they were under the cosh for large periods in their opening Test against Wales in Auckland, the All Blacks soon hit their straps and displayed the type of form which helped them to win the World Cup in England last year.

That means that the world champions have won their last 11 matches on the trot by an average margin of 27 points, although it will be at the back of their minds that their previous defeat was against the Wallabies at the same venue in Sydney last year.

That result, and the return to the Test starting line-up of their overseas-based trio of Will Genia, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper, will boost the Wallabies' confidence as the aforementioned players will provide experience in key positions – something which was sadly lacking in that lost series against England.

New Zealand have also lost several experienced campaigners after the World Cup although they showed against Wales that the absence of retired Test veterans Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock has not had an adverse effect on their game.

An area which the Wallabies will be hoping to exploit, however, is the world champions' midfield with Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa, after average Super Rugby campaigns for the Crusaders and Highlanders respectively, not expected to instill the same kind of fear in their opponents in the way that the old firm of Nonu and Smith did.

With this match also serving as the latest installment of the battle for the Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand will be determined to continue their dominance as the Wallabies have not held the famous trophy since 2002, with the All Blacks winning or retaining the trophy 13 times since then. 

Both teams have been trying to gain the upper hand with the some psychological warfare in the build-up to this Test but the verbal jabs traded by Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika and his All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen will have little impact on the result.

If the Wallabies want to win this clash much will depend on their tactical kicking out of hand. They came up short in this department against England and by picking Giteau, Cheika is admitting that he got his selection wrong by opting to play Samu Kerevi – who is more of a ball carrier – at inside centre position for the first two Tests against England.

Interestingly, Australia have 13 players who were in their starting line-up when these teams met in last year's Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham while New Zealand only have seven.

Apart from their successful run in the Bledisloe Cup, New Zealand have dominated this fixture over the years, winning 106 out of the 155 Tests between these countries with Australia victorious on 42 occasions and seven matches drawn, two of which were in the last four years. 

Players to watch: 

For Australia: In Israel Folau, the Wallabies have one of the sport's best game-breakers and he will be expected to give his side much needed momentum from the back. Folau has been devastating in midfield for the Waratahs but Cheika prefers him at full-back where he has hardly put a foot wrong since making his Test debut in 2013. The 27-year-old's attacking prowess, in one-on-one situations, is well documented but his aerial abilities are also superb and he will be expected to compete and dominate this facet of play. The return of Matt Giteau should not be underestimated as he possesses a superb tactical brain and will be one of his team's key playmakers.

For New Zealand: After playing a leading role in the Hurricanes' successful Super Rugby campaign, Beauden Barrett will be calling the shots in the All Blacks' back-line in what should be their most difficult Test so far this year. Although Aaron Cruden started in two out of the three Tests against Wales, and hardly put a foot wrong in those encounters, Barrett's sublime form has been rewarded. His game-management and playmaking skills are second to none and if he continues where he left off for the Hurricanes, the world champions should dominate. Barrett's partnership with Aaron Smith will play a big role in determining this Test's result. Smith's superb service to his outside backs, brilliant kicking out of hand and ability to bring his forwards in to play with his short passing game makes him another major attacking threat.

Head-to-head: The breakdown battle will be fascinating as there are several protagonists involved and each one possesses superb skills. For the Wallabies, the presence of both David Pocock and Michael Hooper should give them an edge in this department against the All Blacks' Sam Cane, whose performance will be closely monitored as he wasn't at his best during the latter stages of Super Rugby due to continous bouts of concussion. Expect Ardie Savea, who was one of the Hurricanes' star performers in their run to the Super Rugby title, to be introduced from the bench to help counter the threat posed by Pocock and Hooper and to also impose his superb skillset on this encounter.

Team news: Australia coach Michael Cheika has dropped flanker Scott Fardy from his starting XV and replaced him with Ben McCalman. Breakdown specialists Michael Hooper and David Pocock start at seven and eight, reuniting the pair for the first time since the opening June Test against England. Returned Europe-based players Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau will all reprise their roles from last year’s World Cup. Ashley-Cooper will team up with Dane Haylett-Petty on the wings alongside Israel Folau in an exciting back three. Scrum-half Genia’s start will be his first game of rugby since January, after recovering from a knee injury, and forms a half-back partnership with fly-half Bernard Foley. The lock combination of Rob Simmons and Kane Douglas will have its first real test on home soil, while Stephen Moore continues as captain and hooker. Brumbies prop Allan Alaalatoa is in line to become the sixth Wallabies debutant of the season, named on the bench for the first time.

Beauden Barrett will start at fly-half for New Zealand while Tasman and Chiefs prop Kane Hames came into the All Blacks squad as an injury replacement for Joe Moody and will become the sixth new All Black of 2016 and All Black number 1152 if he takes the field. The rest of the starting line-up has a familiar look to it with Kieran Read leading the team from number eight and he is joined in the back-row by Sam Cane and Jerome Kaino while Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are the starting locks. Amongst the backs, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa line up in midfield while Israel Dagg wears the number 15 jersey with Ben Smith and Waisake Naholo starting out wide and Aaron Smith at scrum-half. In the front-row, Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks are the starting props alongside hooker Codie Taylor, who comes in as a late replacement for the injured Nathan Harris.

Previous results:

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 their foreign legion back, the Wallabies should give a good account of themselves but the All Blacks will rely heavily on the brilliance of Barrett to get them over the line. It will be close but New Zealand will win by five points!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Dane Haylett-Petty, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio 
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Scott Fardy, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Rob Horne

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Julian Savea

Date: Saturday, August 20
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20:05 local (10:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

by David Skippers