Wallabies look to crash All Blacks' party
October 14, 2011
Australia recorded an epic victory over South Africa in the quarter-final © Getty Images
World Cup favourites New Zealand and Tri-Nations champions Australia will go head-to-head for a place in the Rugby World Cup Final at Auckland's Eden Park on Sunday night.
The All Blacks have marched to the beat of destiny so far, striding confidently into the final four despite the loss of key playmaker Dan Carter and his understudy Colin Slade. After powering through Pool A with 36 tries scored and only six conceded, the tournament hosts battled past a strong Argentina outfit 33-10 in the last eight.
The calm tactical awareness and goalkicking accuracy of Piri Weepu has been a real positive for the All Blacks following the injuries to key personnel and he will look to relieve much of the pressure from the young shoulders of Aaron Cruden, who will don the All Blacks' No.10 shirt in only his second start. However, with Richie McCaw leading a settled pack and plenty of firepower in the backline - underlined by the presence of Sonny Bill Williams on the bench - the All Blacks are close to full strength for one of the biggest games in their history.
New Zealand have won 114 of the 166 meetings between the two teams but on the two occasions when they have met in the World Cup, in 1991 and 2003, Australia have upstaged thier cross-Tasman rivals at the semi-final stage. A repeat of that is unthinkable for the All Blacks' supporters, but a genuine possibility following Australia's 11-9 victory over South Africa in the quarter-finals. The snaffling expertise of openside David Pocock - the post-match accusations of cheating from the Springboks' fans were taken as the ultimate compliment - and the defensive will of the collective, went along way in erasing the memories of losing to Ireland in the pool stages.
The Wallabies' talented backline has yet to really light up the tournament as many expected they would, but if they can secure sufficient possession - unlike against the Boks - they are sure to cause the All Blacks may problems as they did when they beat them in the Tri-Nations decider in August.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Less than two weeks ago Aaron Cruden was just another New Zealand fan, waiting and watching to see if the All Blacks would fulfil their World Cup dream. Now the 22-year-old must make it happen.
New Zealand - Team News: Captain Richie McCaw has been passed fit to face the Wallabies after overcoming a foot injury, allaying the fears of the New Zealand public. The All Blacks make three changes, with Aaron Cruden starting at No.10 in place of the injured Colin Slade, Richard Kahui displacing Sonny Bill Williams on the left wing after returning from injury and Israel Dagg coming in for Mils Muliaina at fullback following the elder statesman's withdrawal from the tournament and subsequent retirement. On the bench Andy Ellis gets the nod as scrum-half cover and Stephen Donald provides cover for Cruden.
Australia - Player to Watch: After being billed as the sole challenge to Dan Carter's position as pre-eminent playmaker in world rugby, Quade Cooper has failed to spark in the World Cup so far. He has struggled to cope on the back foot and had few opportunities to show off his unique style of attacking rugby. With Carter out of the equation, Cooper has the chance on Sunday to enrage New Zealand to far greater effect than with off-field jibes.
Australia - Team News: Australia fullback Kurtley Beale failed to recover from a hamstring injury and Adam Ashley-Cooper replaces him with Anthony Faingaa coming into midfield. Rob Simmons is drafted onto the bench instead of lock Nathan Sharpe.
Key Battle: Of all the tantalizing showdowns across the park, there is one that stands out above the rest. Pocock vs McCaw has the ring of a heavyweight title bout and is potentially the contest of the World Cup. Pocock proved his form and fitness in a match-winning display against the Boks but could be on the back foot against New Zealand's seemingly superior pack, while McCaw will have to overcome doubts about a foot injury if he is to maintain his top-dog status and keep the All Blacks on track.
Stats: New Zealand have not lost at Eden Park for 17 years and have not lost to the Wallabies there since 1986
Trivia: Four players remain from the All Blacks side that lost to France in the quarter-final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup: Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock, Ali Williams and Andrew Hore
"I think there's a quiet focus there, a quiet determination. The guys have been a bit quieter than normal, probably because it's such a huge game. It's probably the biggest game that these guys have played in 10 years." - All Blacks head coach Graham Henry reveals his team's quiet preparations
"The pressure is divided equally on both sides as there is no tomorrow, and the ultimate prize [a place in the Rugby World Cup final] awaits the side which earns that right of passage." - Australia coach Robbie Deans dismisses the notion that all the pressure is on the All Blacks
Prediction: New Zealand's edge in the tight five and home support to be enough to carry them over the whitewash - but expect some fireworks along the way.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The latest Week in Pictures takes in a fiery East Midlands derby and all the action from the Aviva Premiership and Top 14
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton