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Preview: Australia v NewZealand

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Sportal.co.nz     16 Aug 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: ANZ Stadium, Saturday August 18, 8.00pm (AEST).

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 167 – All Blacks 115, Wallabies 47, Draw 5.

LAST TIME: October 16, 2011 (Auckland) – New Zealand 20-6 Australia.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Wallabies are missing several key players through injury. Skipper James Horwill won't play again in 2012 after suffering a serious hamstring injury playing for the Reds. James O'Connor is also sidelined with a hamstring injury and will miss at least the first two Rugby Championship fixtures against New Zealand. Inside-centre Pat McCabe (leg) and loose forward Ben McCalman (shoulder) are also unavailable for Saturday's clash, while destructive No.8 Wycliff Palu will miss the majority of the tournament with shoulder nerve damage. All Blacks outside-centre Conrad Smith is sidelined with an eye injury. Veteran lock Brad Thorn and outstanding flanker Jerome Kaino are the only other notable absentees from the World Cup winning squad having taken up lucrative deals in Japan.

FORM: The Wallabies rebounded from 'that loss' to Scotland in Newcastle with three narrow victories over Six Nations champions Wales. They were dominant in the opening Test in Brisbane, prevailing 27-19, but could have easily lost the Melbourne (25-23) and Sydney (20-19) fixtures. The All Blacks kept their undefeated record against Ireland in tact during their three-Test series in June. They did suffer one almighty scare in the second Test in Christchurch, but Dan Carter saved the day with a field goal at the death to clinch the series. They bookended the series with a 42-10 victory in Auckland and a 60-0 thrashing in Hamilton to send a message to their Rugby Championship rivals.

WHO'S HOT: Wallabies flyhalf Berrick Barnes made the most of his chance in the No.10 jumper in June, winning two man-of-the-match awards in the Wales series. Loose forward Scott Higginbotham was the pick of the forward pack while tighthead prop Sekope Kepu continues to improve with every match. All Blacks superstar Sonny Bill Williams was spectacular against Ireland and has two more chances to prove himself on the international stage before taking the cash in Japanese rugby en route to the Sydney Roosters. New scrumhalf Aaron Smith emerged as the next Kiwi superstar in the June series against Ireland, while Kieran Read and skipper Richie McCaw were also excellent.

WE THINK: The 20-6 scoreline in the Rugby World Cup semi-final flattered the Wallabies. It was much more one-sided than that. Robbie Deans' men have won two of their past four clashes against the Kiwis, but the semi-final result highlighted the massive gulf in class and it's hard to see how that gap has closed in 10 months. To make matters worse for the Wallabies, they are missing several key personnel through injury while the tourists are close to full strength. The All Blacks won the last two meetings at ANZ Stadium by a point and Sydney typically produces tight and physical affairs. The venue might help narrow the margin but it won't be enough to reverse the result. All Blacks by 10.

TEAMS:

Wallabies 15. Kurtley Beale, 14. Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13. Rob Horne, 12. Anthony Fainga'a, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Berrick Barnes, 9. Will Genia, 8. Scott Higginbotham, 7. David Pocock (c), 6. Dave Dennis, 5. Nathan Sharpe, 4. Sitaleki Timani, 3. Sekope Kepu, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau 1. Benn Robinson.

Reserves: 16. Stephen Moore, 17. James Slipper, 18. Rob Simmons, 19. Radike Samo, 20. Michael Hooper, 21. Nick Phipps, 22. Drew Mitchell.

All Blacks 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Richie McCaw (c), 8. Kieran Read, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Dan Carter, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Ma'a Nonu, 14. Cory Jane, 15. Israel Dagg.
Reserves:
16. Andrew Hore, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Brodie Retallick, 19. Victor Vito, 20. Piri Weepu, 21. Aaron Cruden, 22. Ben Smith.