Preview: All Blacks v Australia
Sportal.co.nz 17 Oct 2013 Getty Images
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 148, New Zealand 101, Australia 41, drawn 6.
LAST TIME: August 24, 2013 (Wellington) – New Zealand 27-16 Australia
MISSING IN ACTION: New Zealand welcome back right wing Cory Jane for his first international of the year after suffering a knee injury in pre-season training with the Hurricanes in February. Others to earn starts are lock Jeremy Thrush and Keven Mealamu at the expense of Brodie Retallick and Andrew Hore respectively.
Australia have had more than their fair share of injuries, with second five-eighths Christian Leali'ifano joining fellow backs Joe Tomane and Scott Fardy as those unavailable for selection. Peter Betham gets a debut on the wing while halfback Will Genia plays his 50th match for the visitors.
FORM: If both teams carry form from their previous Rugby Championship matches to Dunedin then it has the potential to be a blockbuster despite the dead-rubber nature of the encounter.
Unbeaten throughout the campaign, the All Blacks rounded off a blemish-free campaign with a superb 38-27 victory that had all the landmarks of a classic encounter at Ellis Park. Despite scoring a try and delivering a breathtaking performance from the bench, Beauden Barrett will again be waiting for his chance to strike in the battle to be crowned Dan Carter's long-term replacement in the No.10 jersey.
Ben Smith, too, has been in superb form with five tries against Australia this year but will be in relatively unfamiliar territory when starting at centre for the second time in 22 Tests. How he finds space, uses his footwork and utilises his natural finishing ability will be key to whether New Zealand can safely fend off their opponents.
As for Australia, their biggest weapon is the New Zealand sporting public's biggest villain. While there have been attempts from Australia and New Zealand to silence the boos spat at his direction, Quade Cooper has been quietly going about his work under Australia coach Ewen McKenzie. Matt Toomua's shift to second five-eighths is as clear an indication as any that Cooper is likely to fill the No.10 slot for the long run.
It could very well be Cooper's type of evening. Barring the deafening jeers towards his direction, the Wallabies playmaker will understand this is his opportunity to impress McKenzie and repay his faith in a game where the visitors have nothing to lose. If he successfully casts aside the boos then New Zealand will need to be able to defend from anywhere.
Australia may have scored seven tries against Argentina in their last encounter, but their biggest challenge is maintaining that level of intensity fresh from travelling from Argentina to Dunedin.
Their forward performed admirably against one of the tougher scrums in the world, but whether they can back that up against an All Black forward pack that features three centurions remains to be seen.
WE THINK: Australia usually save their best for New Zealand regardless of whether the Bledisloe Cup is on the line or not. While they should compete well at the breakdown, courtesy of the likes of Michael Hooper and James Slipper, their backline is well and truly shaded by the quality of their opponents.
Communication will be key for the All Blacks, particularly between Smith and Ma'a Nonu as they look to establish an attacking partnership equally as potent as the world-record pairing of Nonu and Conrad Smith. There's also the potential for the fullback match-up between Israel Dagg and Israel Folau to be one for the future.
Discipline, too, will be crucial for New Zealand in the early stages. If they limit their early penalties and are able to control themselves at the breakdown, then they will go a long way to winning this one.
New Zealand by 15.
New Zealand:1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Charlie Faumuina, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Richie McCaw (c), 8. Kieran Read, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Ben Smith, 14. Cory Jane, 15. Israel Dagg.
Substitutes: 16. Dane Coles, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Ben Franks, 19. Brodie Retallick, 20. Sam Cane, 21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22. Beauden Barrett, 23. Tom Taylor.
Australia:1. James Slipper, 2. Stephen Moore, 3. Ben Alexander, 4. Rob Simmons, 5. James Horwill, 6. Ben Mowen, 7. Michael Hooper, 8. Ben McCalman, 9. Will Genia, 10. Quade Cooper, 11. Peter Betham, 12. Matt Toomua, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 15. Israel Folau.
Substitutes: 16. Saia Fainga'a, 17. Benn Robinson, 18. Sekope Kepu, 19. Sitaleki Timani, 20. Dave Dennis, 21. Nic White, 22. Mike Harris, 23. Bernard Foley.
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