Battle for the Bledisloe set to resume
August 16, 2012
Berrick Barnes starts at fly-half for Australia © Getty Images
The battle for the Bledisloe Cup kicks off on Saturday with the All Blacks travelling to Sydney to face Australia in the first match of the inaugural Rugby Championship.
The Wallabies took the Tri-Nations trophy last year but lived up to the curse of the southern hemisphere trophy holders by failing to back it up with World Cup success in October. Instead it was their Trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand who took the sport's biggest prize - and to rub salt into the wound, it was the All Blacks who knocked out Australia in the semi-finals with the Kiwis prevailing 20-6.
Since then the All Blacks have downed Ireland 3-0 in June's Test series to give Steve Hansen the perfect start in the hot seat as he looks to continue in the same vein as his predecessor Sir Graham Henry.
While Hansen will be under the usual pressure which comes with the top All Blacks post, his opposite number Robbie Deans also needs success in this competition. The Australian public are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Deans and the home defeat to Scotland back in June coupled with unconvincing wins over Wales on home soil would've done little to boost their spirits. With Reds supremo Ewen McKenzie waiting in the wings, Deans will need to a solid showing in Sydney to build the foundations for the rest of their campaign.
Australia - Player to Watch: Berrick Barnes has been given the nod at fly-half, with Quade Cooper not even included in the match day squad, and the Waratahs No.10 will look to repay Deans' faith. He was fantastic in the three-Test series against Wales with accurate kicking and solid play off the back of the scrum providing the basis for their three wins.
Australia - Team News: Scott Higginbotham, skipper David Pocock and Dave Dennis are the chosen back-row with Rob Simmons and Nathan Sharpe starting in the second-row. The front-row sees Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota Nau and Benn Robinson packing down. Deans has opted to start Barnes with Will Genia slotting in at scrum-half. Anthony Faingaa and Rob Horne get the nod in the centres with Kurtley Beale starting at fullback and Adam Ashley-Cooper and Digby Ioane on the flanks.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on Sonny Bill Williams. The in-form centre Williams starts at No.12 and this could well be the one of the last times that fans of union will get to see the man in action. Williams will imminently journey to Japan to take up a contract with the Wild Knights and will then cross-codes back to league. He was instrumental in the Chiefs' Super Rugby triumph so expect him to shine.
New Zealand - Team News: Israel Dagg starts at fullback with Cory Jane and Hosea Gear on the wings. Ma'a Nonu and Williams get the nod in the centres with Dan Carter and Aaron Smith at half-back. The now recovered Kieran Read anchors the scrum at No.8 with lieutenants Richie McCaw and Chiefs captain Liam Messam alongside him. Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano are in the second-row with Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock packing down in the front-row.
Key Battle: While the battle between David Pocock and Richie McCaw at openside will get a lot of the headlines, the second-row clash will be fascinating. Luke Romano with his solitary international cap will be going up against 105 Test veteran Nathan Sharpe. It's master against the apprentice so expect Sharpe to use all of his knowledge and experience to try and get one over Romano.
Richie McCaw on the historic rivalry%]
Trivia: If Piri Weepu gets his chance off the bench then he will play in his 60th Test for the All Blacks - this will see him joining Jeff Wilson and Craig Dowd on that milestone.
Stats: New Zealand boast eight players in their XV that started against Australia back in the 2011 World Cup semi-final while Australia have just six.
"There's not a lot of certainty in this industry, but I've got no doubt Cooper will get an opportunity again, absolutely." -Australia boss Robbie Deans on Quade Cooper
"This Bledisloe Cup contest brings two challenges. The first is our opponents who we clearly respect, but just as important is the second challenge which is about us being better than we were before." - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
Prediction: The All Blacks will kick-start their campaign with a win of less than seven points in Sydney
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.