Preview: All Blacks vs Wallabies
- 18 Oct 2013
New Zealand will test new combinations against Australia in the third Bledisloe Cup Test in Dunedin on Saturday.
With Conrad Smith taking a six-month sabbatical, Ben Smith has moved from the right wing to outside centre and will partner Ma'a Nonu in the midfield. Ben Smith has been the outstanding player in world rugby this year and his eight tries in the Rugby Championship set a record for the tournament. Seeing him given more ball to work with in midfield will be intriguing.
Up front, tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Jeremy Thrush, who have been forced to bide their time among the replacements, now get a chance to impress.
Make no mistake, though, the world champions mean business and will be eager to win the series 3-0 and maintain their unbeaten record in 2013.
What the Wallabies will produce on Saturday is anyone's guess. Their losing run under Ewen McKenzie was brought to an impressive conclusion in Rosario when they hammered Argentina 54-17.
The fiasco involving James O'Connor and key injuries to David Pocock, Scott Higginbotham, seemingly every winger in Australia, and now Christian Leali'ifano have confounded McKenzie's best efforts to bed in a new culture.
That is not to suggest that the Wallabies have been short of positives. Israel Folau always had the potential to be a star in rugby union, but the speed at which he has ascended from making his debut for the Waratahs to becoming Australia's key attacking force has been impressive. He has scored seven tries in his first nine games, including a hat-trick inside 42 minutes against Argentina.
Folau's emergence in union has also been timely. In a year where O'Connor has gone from playing flyhalf against the British & Irish Lions to the wilderness of being without a contract for this year or the next, the Wallabies needed a star. Considering Kurtley Beale's up-and-down year and the gradual re-emergence of Quade Cooper into Test rugby, that need was desperate and Folau has fulfilled it.
Getting McKenzie's message across will come with time and Australia are already better off than in the sombre environment that was their press conference at Newlands last month, after being so comprehensively beaten in Cape Town.
Injuries to a number of wingers will not stop their sense of adventure against New Zealand because, after all, what is there left to lose?
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Charles Piutau, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Steven Luatua,, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Tom Taylor.
Wallabies – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Subs: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Benn Robinson, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Nic White, 22 Mike Harris, 23 Bernard Foley.
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
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