Australia v New Zealand, Bledisloe Cup, October 20
All Blacks out to edge nearer historic mark
October 19, 2012
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu will become the latest player to join the 100 Test cap club on Saturday © Getty Images
New Zealand will look to take one step closer the record for the most consecutive Test victories when they tackle Australia in the final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year in Brisbane on Saturday.
The All Blacks, fresh from setting the seal on their unbeaten Rugby Championship campaign, have won their last 16 matches and one more against their old foes would see them equal the record for a top tier nation held jointly by the New Zealand (1965-69) and South Africa (1997-98).
The world record of 18 straight wins, recognised by the International Rugby Board, is held by Lithuania who won 18 games in a row on their way up the lower European divisions between 2006 and 2010 during which time they never faced a side that had appeared at a World Cup. Even if the All Blacks fail to keep their run alive, it will also be an historic day for All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu who will become the latest player to join the 100 Test caps club that already includes his captain Richie McCaw.
An injury-ravaged Australia enter the game having dug deep to beat Argentina in their latest outing - a result that was good enough to secure the runners-up spot in the Championship. Australia can take heart from the fact that they were the last side to inflict defeat on the All Blacks - at the same ground in 2011 - but even if they were to end their rivals' winning run the sizeable Bledisloe Cup silverware is set to elude them for another year due to their two defeats in August and their barren run now stretches back to 2002.
The game also serves as a warm-up for both sides ahead of their respective tours of Europe.
Australia - Player to Watch: Centre Pat McCabe was one of the Wallabies' stand-out performers during the Rugby Championship and another gutsy display will be required in Brisbane.
Australia - Team News: No.8 Wycliff Palu returns from a shoulder injury suffered during the Super Rugby season in the place of Radike Samo while Adam Ashley-Cooper is back from a concussion and starts on the wing instead of the injured Digby Ioane. Scott Higginbotham has been promoted to the starting line-up at blindside with Sitaleki Timani returning to the second row and Kane Douglas dropping to the replacements. Prop Ben Alexander was due to start but was forced to withdraw with a wrist injury. James Slipper has since been drafted into the starting line-up with Sekope Kepu coming onto the bench. In another enforced change, reserve hooker Saia Fainga'a was forced out of the game with a hand injury with his place on the bench taken by the uncapped James Hanson.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw notched his 100th Test victory last weekend and with another record in his side's sights, expect him to spearhead their charge into the history books.
New Zealand - Team News: Mealamu's returns to the starting line-up at the expense of Andrew Hore in one of two changes to the side that started the 32-16 win over South Africa earlier this month. The other is the promotion of prop Charlie Faumuina who gets his first start in his fourth Test ahead of Owen Franks who drops to the bench like Hore.
Key Battle: The All Blacks prevented Australia from scoring the last time they met at Eden Park a couple of months ago - the first time they had done so since 1962. If the Wallabies are to avoid a similar fate a lot rests on the ability of centres Ben Tapuai and Pat McCabe to crack the All Blacks' defence. The largely-untried midfield duo, who have only played together once before, face the infinitely more experienced Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith - most prolific backline partnership in All Blacks history - who will line up alongside each other for the 39th time.
Trivia: The Wallabies' mind-blowing casualty list still includes James Horwill, David Pocock, Sekope Kepu, James O'Connor, Quade Cooper, Berrick Barnes, Stephen Moore, Will Genia, and Rob Horne.
Stats: New Zealand's Keven Mealamu will become the 22nd player to reach the 100 Test cap milestone. The list, headed by Wallabies legend George Gregan, also includes two other players on show in Brisbane - All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw and Australia's veteran second row Nathan Sharpe.
"These guys are the best in the world - you can't argue with that - and I'd argue that these guys are the best All Blacks side I've ever come across" - Australia's Adam Ashley-Cooper was full of praise for his side's rivals earlier this week
"There's a huge desire to play better, and if we do that job right, well then, those things take care of themselves. I'm not saying it's not been thought about a little bit, but the first thing is to back up a good performance from two weeks ago." - Despite the chance to make history, it is business as usual for All Blacks captain Richie McCaw
Prediction: The All Blacks have a record in their sights and a bruised and battered Wallabies side are not in a position to halt their significant momentum.
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