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Preview: Australia v New Zealand

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Sportal.co.nz     16 Aug 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 170, New Zealand 117, Australia 47, Drawn 6.
LAST TIME: Wallabies 18 draw All Blacks 18, October 20, 2012 in Brisbane.

WALKING WOUNDED:
The Wallabies are missing several key players through injury as they prepare to start a new era under coach Ewen McKenzie. Tatafu Polota-Nau (hamstring) and Peter Kimlin (thumb) are the latest casualties after being named in the 30-man squad. Polota-Nau is expected to be sidelined for a fortnight while Kimlin is at least a month away from making his return. Wycliff Palu (knee) is also a chance to feature at some stage during the Rugby Championship, however Kurtley Beale (shoulder), David Pocock (knee), Scott Higginbotham (shoulder), Pat McCabe (neck) and Digby Ioane (shoulder) are all out for the season.

All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw returns from a six month sabbatical to lead the visitors into battle at ANZ Stadium, but star flyhalf Dan Carter will miss the match with a calf strain suffered at training on Monday. Aaron Cruden, who led the Chiefs to their second-straight Super Rugby title this season, replaces Carter at number 10. Loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett (knee) is also unavailable, allowing veteran Tony Woodcock to start. The only other change to the starting side the beat France in the third Test in June sees veteran hooker Andrew Hore replace Dane Coles. A late change has also seen Liam Messam withdraw due to a hamstring strain allowing Steven Luatua to start.

FORM:
The Wallabies are coming off a 41-16 thumping in the third Test against the British and Irish Lions last month. That loss saw them lose the series 2-1 and ended former coach Robbie Deans' tenure on a sour note. It was a tough night for the Wallabies pack. They were manhandled at the breakdown and the scrum disintegrated under the scrutiny of French referee Romain Poite. There were some positive signs out wide, with the emergence of code-hopper Israel Folau the highlight of the series for the Wallabies.

The All Blacks completed a 3-0 series whitewash over France in June with an unconvincing 24-9 victory over Les Bleus in New Plymouth. Steve Hansen's men trailed twice throughout the match but did enough get the victory, with a late try to Beauden Barrett inflating the scoreline. They were far more clinical in their 30-0 demolition in Christchurch in the second Test after opening the series with a hard-fought 23-13 victory in Auckland.

WE THINK:
Expectations are high following the appointment of new Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, but it remains to be seen whether the former Test prop can reverse the recent trend against the world champions. Three wins and a draw from 18 Tests in the Deans era doesn't make pretty reading for Wallabies fans and ultimately contributed heavily to the Kiwi coach's demise. McKenzie's less structured game plan should help unlock the potent Wallabies backline, but the forward pack remains a major worry for the new coach after they were comprehensively beaten by the Lions in the third Test. The new 'crouch-bind-set' scrum laws should suit the Wallabies, while the absence of Dan Carter's trusty left boot is also a boost for the hosts. It'll be close and the Wallabies are definitely capable of pulling off an upset, but we're tipping the All Blacks to scrape home on the back of their dominant pack. All Blacks by three