Settled Wallabies out to end on a high
September 16, 2009
Matt Giteau will again pull the strings for the Wallabies © Getty Images
This season's Tri-Nations concludes in Wellington on Saturday, perennial rivals New Zealand and Australia going head-to-head with only pride at stake.
With the Springboks claiming the title in last weekend's thrilling 32-29 victory over the All Blacks in Hamilton their challengers have been left to rue poor performances on their away legs.
Robbie Deans' Wallabies have to come to terms with another season bereft of silverware after they conceded the Bledisloe Cup in a 19-18 loss in Sydney, although their tails will be up after inflicting the only loss on the Springboks during the tournament.
His young side will need plenty of the intestinal fortitude that they exhibited in that 21-6 victory in Brisbane, not least as they have conceded half-time leads to the All Blacks in their last four Test matches.
Both sides have borne the brunt of some fierce press criticism during this season, with the respective coaching teams receiving various tongue-lashings. Deans will be the happier of the coaches this weekend, with his team beginning to take on a settled look.
For Graham Henry and the All Blacks the game represents a chance to try new combinations ahead of the November Tests, an opportunity the coach has wilfully accepted. Despite Henry's protestations to the otherwise, the changes do resemble a cull, with four of the five dropped players having missed out on the 22 altogether.
Jerome Kaino, Isaac Ross, Sitiveni Sivivatu, who is injured, and Owen Franks will all be watching from the stands while Stephen Donald starts on the bench after the failed experiment of playing at No.12.
Henry hands a Test debut to Otago lock Tom Donnelly, in place of Ross, and tinkers with his back-row. Adam Thomson joins Richie McCaw and Kieran Read in the trio, Kaino dropping out and Jason Eaton covering both lock and back-row on the bench.
Dan Carter has been handed sole control of the playmaking duties, with a new-look centre combination of Ma'a Nonu and Isaia Toeava outside him. Cory Jane's lively cameo from the bench in Hamilton stands him in good stead as he prepares for a start on the wing.
Deans has made no changes to his side, trusting the blend of youth and experience that prospered last time out. George Smith again starts at No.8 and captains the team, David Pocock running on in Smith's usual No.7 jersey. Rocky Elsom, continuing to grow in stature after his return, completes the trio.
Will Genia, superb in his full debut against the Springboks, starts at scrum-half alongside Matt Giteau at No.10. Berrick Barnes continues in the second playmaker role, exemplifying the blueprint that Henry, Carter and Donald failed to copy last weekend. Rib injuries threatened to rule out hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and wing Lachie Turner but both have come through training and start.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Isaia Toeava, Ma'a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Daniel Carter, Jimmy Cowan, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Adam Thomson, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, John Afoa, Jason Eaton, Rodney So'oialo, Brendon Leonard, Stephen Donald, Hosea Gear
Australia: James O'Connor, Lachie Turner, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Will Genia, George Smith (captain), David Pocock, Rocky Elsom, Mark Chisholm, James Horwill, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Stephen Moore, Pek Cowan, Dean Mumm, Wycliff Palu, Luke Burgess, Quade Cooper, Peter Hynes.
Referee: Craig Joubert (SA)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (SA), Wayne Barnes (Eng)
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14