New Zealand vs Australia | Saturday 15 August | Eden Park | 09:35
It was a weekend of upsets in the final round of the Rugby Championship; with all the rugby media’s attention firmly focused on the Springbok fall from grace, the Australian triumph over New Zealand has fallen by the wayside. The Wallabies finally managed to lift the ANZ Stadium curse which had seen them without a win in a Test match against New Zealand since 2008. Michael Cheika’s side also broke their Rugby Championship duck, winning the competition for the first time since its inception in 2012. The result also kept Cheika’s side in contention to win their first Bledisloe Cup since 2002. With Bledisloe Cup bragging rights on the line this weekend, expect these two Australasian rivals to go at it hammer and tongs from the kick-off.
To Win (80mins)
New Zealand 2/9
New Zealand (-10.5) 9/10
Australia (+10.5) 9/10
With twenty minutes left on the board at ANZ Stadium last weekend Steve Hansen would have fancied his side’s chances of securing their first title in their pursuit of a treble of trophies in 2015. However, an unimpressive kicking display by veteran ten Dan Carter would come back to haunt the All Blacks. Carter’s ineffectual kicking meant the visitors’ lead was never as secure as it should have been and he and his teammates were made to pay as Australia went on to win the game. The All Blacks have the chance to avenge last weekend’s loss when the two sides lock horns this Saturday morning. Hansen has made a few tweaks for the encounter at Eden Park. Ma’a Nonu returns to the starting line-up to partner Hurricanes teammate Conrad Smith in the centres. Elsewhere in the backline, Dan Carter is given another shot in the ten jersey despite his trouble with the boot. Carter’s Crusaders teammate Colin Slade will offer utility cover from the bench. In the forward pack, Victor Vito and Sam Whitelock come in for Jerome Kaino and Luke Romano respectively. The forward reserves also see some changes with veteran Blues hooker Keven Mealamu and Crusaders loose head Wyatt Crockett taking a spot on the bench. One of the few positives to come out of last weekend’s loss was the performance of Nehe Milner-Skudder; the elusive winger come fullback became the first All Black to score a double on debut against Australia since 1962. Expect more fireworks from the little man from Wellington this weekend.
Success in rugby is often heavily reliant on timing; you can do all the prep work you want but if the All Blacks turn up like they do to 99% of their games, most teams don’t have a chance in hell. Last weekend saw the Australians take advantage of an unfocused and undisciplined All Black performance. Their victory over the defending World Champions would have sent the Wallabies squad and their supporters to cloud nine; however, they will need to have their feet firmly back on terra firma this weekend as they come up against an All Blacks side out for revenge. Cheika has decided to change things up for the Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park, making six changes to his starting fifteen. The backline changes see a switch of personnel in the halfback pairing, with Quade Cooper and Nic White taking over from Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps. Elsewhere in the backs, Matt Toomua comes into the centres and will partner Brumbies teammate Tevita Kuidraini. Another Brumbie enters the fray in the form of Henry Speight, who comes in on the left wing. In the pack, Will Skelton returns to the starting fifteen in place of Dean Mumm, whilst Scott Fardy and Wycliff Palu come into the loose trio alongside the only loosie to retain his place from last weeks starting lineup, Michael Hooper. The Wallabies midfield will look to replicate last weekend’s strategy of taking the ball as flat as possible and getting some go-forward thrust. In order to do this however, they will once again need their pack to ensure they get clean and quick ball from the breakdown.
VERDICT: New Zealand (-10.5) 9/10
Last weekend’s loss will have hurt the All Blacks and they will be looking to make up for that below par performance this time out. My money’s on the All Blacks returning to winning ways with a big victory at Eden Park.