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Preview: New Zealand v Australia

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Sportal.co.nz     05 Aug 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland 19.35 (NZT)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 140, New Zealand 95, Australia 40

LAST TIME: October 30, 2010 (Hong Kong) – New Zealand 24-26 Australia.

WALKING WOUNDED: Both teams are still without key performers, although Australia have maintained the same XV who beat South Africa a fortnight ago. However, back in the 22 for the game is halfback Luke Burgess after a broken hand. New Zealand were able to name wing Sitiveni Sivivatu after he recovered from a knee injury earlier in the week. However, prop John Afoa was unable to be considered to the fractured cheekbone suffered against South Africa. Prop Tony Woodcock is not yet match fit, along with utility back Isaia Toeava and fullback Israel Dagg.

FORM:
New Zealand:
Won v South Africa 40-7 (h)
Won v Fiji 60-14 (h)
Won v Wales 37-25 (a)
Won v Ireland 38-18 (a)
Won v Scotland 49-3 (a)

Australia
Won v South Africa 39-20 (h)
Lost v Samoa 23-32 (h)
Won v France 59-16 (a)
Won v Italy 32-14 (a)
Lost v England 18-35 (a)

Australia had their confidence rocked when Samoa got in their faces in their opening game of the season but came back strongly against a poor South African side. New Zealand didn't fall into the same trap against Fiji and did even better against South Africa. Both are still building to their peak.

WHO'S HOT: In the modern era no Test discussion can go far past Australia's dynamic inside-back combination of halfback Will Genia and first five-eighths Quade Cooper. Their form for the Reds in Super Rugby was an outstanding factor in the win. However, they didn't do it alone and three-quarters like the mercurial James O'Connor, he of the deadly kicking boot, Digby Ioane and consistent centre Adam Ashley-Cooper make up a formidable combination, and that is without taking fullback Kurtley Beale into consideration. In the pack flanker David Pocock has been in a constant battle to supplant New Zealand openside Richie McCaw while Rocky Elsom has always been hard nut to crack in the loose. For New Zealand the pressure has been on the three-quarters and Sitiveni Sivivatu showed his hunger against Fiji and will have the pressure on him again. First five-eighths Dan Carter took complete control against South Africa in Wellington and will be a key element again for his side. McCaw is rebuilding his form after injury and has highlighted his own need for greater accuracy while No.8 Kieran Read continues to grow in stature. In the front row hooker Keven Mealamu was one of the most consistent performers in Super Rugby.

WE THINK: All the elements of yet another fascinating trans-Tasman clash are in the melting pot. It should be a close affair. Often in games of such tight nature the bounce of the ball, the rub of the green, a refereeing call, can make all the difference. New Zealand have been settled at their set-piece play while Australia have been working hard on their scrummaging. Australia have the Eden Park bogey to overcome while the 'over-the-hill' New Zealanders have some hurdles of their own to conquer. That experience may be the vital factor in the end. New Zealand by three.

TEAMS:
New Zealand: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Keven Mealamu, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Brad Thorn, 5.Ali Williams, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Richie McCaw (captain), 8.Kieran Read, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Dan Carter, 11.Hosea Gear, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.Conrad Smith, 14.Sitiveni Sivivatu, 15.Mils Muliaina.

Reserves: 16.Andrew Hore, 17.Ben Franks, 18.Sam Whitelock, 19.Adam Thomson, 20.Andy Ellis, 21.Colin Slade, 22.Sonny Bill Williams.

Australia: 1.Sekope Kepu, 2.Stephen Moore, 3.Ben Alexander, 4.Rob Simmons, 5.James Horwill, 6.Rocky Elsom (captain), 7.David Pocock, 8.Ben McCalman, 9.Will Genia, 10.Quade Cooper, 11.Digby Ioane, 12.Pat McCabe, 13.Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14.James O'Connor, 15.Kurtley Beale.

Reserves: 16.Saia Fainga'a, 17.Pekahou Cowan, 18.Dan Vickerman, 19.Scott Higginbotham, 20.Luke Burgess, 21.Anthony Fainga'a, 22.Lachie Turner.

REFEREE: Craig Joubert