Australia v New Zealand, Brisbane, August 27
Cometh the hour
August 26, 2011
James Horwill will lead the Wallabies for the first time at the Suncorp Stadium © Getty Images
Australia and New Zealand will go head-to-head for the Tri-Nations crown at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The Wallabies kept their title hopes alive with a notable victory over South Africa in Durban earlier this month and a similar result over their Trans-Tasman rivals this weekend will see them capture the Tri-Nations silverware for the first time since 2001.
But standing in their way is an All Blacks side determined to bounce back from a reverse at the hands of the Springboks, complete a successful defence of the trophy and in doing so ensure their Rugby World Cup campaign begins on the surest of footing. New Zealand enter this latest clash with the sizeable Bledisloe Cup silverware already safely ensconced at home thanks a commanding victory at Eden Park and will be confident of completing the job having never lost at the old Lang Park since matches were moved across town from Ballymore in 1996.
While the naming of each side's World Cup squad has brought some stability to the equation, the Wallabies have had a far from settled build-up to this game with a new skipper named in the form of James Horwill, young back James O'Connor handed a ban for missing the official announcement, confirmation of a fight between players on their latest end-of-year tour and a friendly-fire injury to first-choice scrum-half Will Genia all hitting the headlines. In contrast it has been business as usual for the All Blacks as they target their sixth title in the last seven years.
Australia - Player to Watch: Stripped of the captaincy, all eyes will be on Rocky Elsom to see how he reacts to being just one of the foot soldiers. As a class act on and off the field, you can expect him to silence his critics with a big display.
Australia - Team News: Lock James Horwill will lead Australia for the first time, becoming the 77th Wallabies Test captain. Horwill packs down alongside Dan Vickerman, who makes his first start for the Wallabies since August 2008, with Nathan Sharpe captaining the Australian Barbarians against Canada on Friday night. Radike Samo makes his first start since 2004 at No.8 while Reds team-mate Anthony Faingaa is the beneficiary of O'Connor's suspension as he comes off the bench to start alongside Pat McCabe in the centres. Adam Ashley-Cooper moves to right wing. Scrum-half Will Genia has shrugged off concerns over a potential concussion suffered in training.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: The All Blacks were bullied at the breakdown last time out but with Richie McCaw back in the fold expect them to raise their game with Captain Tackles at the heart of the effort.
New Zealand - Team News: Captain Richie McCaw and fly-half Dan Carter return for the All Blacks among 11 changes to the starting XV that lost to South Africa in Port Elizabeth. Only prop Tony Woodcock, hooker Keven Mealamu, flanker Adam Thomson and lock Sam Whitelock retain their places. Jerome Kaino and Sonny Bill Williams are the major casualties with neither even finding their way on to the bench. Isaia Toeava covers the centres and back three from the bench with Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith once again linking up in midfield and Zac Guildford and Cory Jane selected on the wings. Piri Weepu ousts Jimmy Cowan at scrum-half while Brad Thorn packs down with Whitelock in the engine room and Owen Franks joins Mealamu and Woodcock in the front row.
Key Battle: New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter took the spoils in his most recent showdown with Australian counterpart Quade Cooper but don't expect him to get everything his own way this time around with the latter on home ground. Time will tell which of the two outstanding playmakers gets to dictate the terms of this mouth-watering match-up.
Trivia: James Horwill has the chance to become the first Wallabies skipper to lift the Tri-Nations trophy since 2001 - on that occasion it was also a lock who got his hands on the silver, the legendary John Eales.
Stats: The All Blacks have won 11 of 13 Tests against the Wallabies since Kiwi Robbie Deans switched sides in 2008.
"Being a second-rower watching John Eales as I was growing up, he was clearly a great of the game and in that era when his team was very successful. So he's a guy I look up to as a player and also as a leader now."
"If the officials can make good decisions on the evidence they have got, why not? I know it's outside the laws of the game - they should only adjudicate over the goal line. But I haven't got a problem with it"
Prediction: Despite the Wallabies-heavy Reds' recent victory over the All Blacks-laden Crusaders in this year's Super Rugby finale, the Suncorp Stadium holds no fear for the visitors and they will underline their World Cup credentials with an impressive show of strength to silence their nearest challengers once again.
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