New Zealand v Australia
New Zealand last suffered consecutive losses before the 2011 World Cup, with a 18-5 defeat in Port Elizabeth followed up by 25-20 in Brisbane the next week. Both coach Steve Hansen and the returning Ma’a Nonu have said that the All Blacks were “out-passioned” last week in Sydney and a response is expected this week.
The hosts have won their previous 33 games at Eden Park by an average score of 34-14 and the last 15 matches there against Australia, by 28-14. The Wallabies have scored just 6 tries on their previous 7 visits, with no 1st half try in the last 4 trips.
A rare loss for New Zealand does bring out the ‘aura weakening / end of dynasty’ articles. In this case they tend to ignore the point that this is only their second home game in the last 12 Tests and the squad rotation that has occurred since 2014. Ignore the matches against Japan and USA and their average score has decreased from 32-14 (Jun 12 – Oct 13) to 28-19 (Oct 13 – present) but that might be expected, given they started 2012 with close to their World Cup winning squad while other teams rebuilt.
The hosts have gone back to many of their long-term combinations – the front row make their 7th start, locks 24th, halfbacks 14th and centres 57th. Australia have Folau and Ashely-Cooper making their 8th starts in 8 games since Cheika took over, with Hooper,Kepu and Kuridrani on their 7th starts. White makes his first start since last year – the 51-20 defeat at Auckland. It will be his 3rd start alongside Cooper, with the others being a 14-13 home win over Argentina and 28-8 loss in South Africa in 2013.
Cheika has started the Tahs duo of Phipps / Foley in 6 of his matches with Genia / Cooper against South Africa and then the White / Cooper combo for this match. There has also been rotation in the 12 shirt with Giteau and Toomua both now given 2 starts. The Wallabies coach has said he was unaware of Cooper’s history with New Zealand fans but regardless he had backed the player and said that protecting him would have been a sign of weakness. After the performance against Argentina it is an important game for Cooper and there is the obvious motivation of winning the Bledisloe Cup. For New Zealand there is the extra motivation of a farewell for Woodcock, Mealamu, McCaw, Carter, Nonu and C Smith.
New Zealand have won their previous 11 games with Owens in charge, with the last 3 having winning margins of 2, 5 and 3 points. Australia have tended to win at home with this referee – beating England, Argentina and South Africa twice and lose away. Their last 5 away matches with Owens refereeing have seen losing margins of 22 (New Zealand 2012), 27 (France 2012), 18 (South Africa 2014), 4 (Argentina 2014) and 3 (France 2014). There was a sense that Hooper and Owens weren’t getting on last year, particularly the Mendoza defeat so having Moore as skipper this time could be a benefit.
With the exception of the 29-47 game in 2013, Australia home games against New Zealand have generally been close since 2011 – with an average score of 24-25 and 2 wins, 2 draws from 8 contests. However they have lost 17 in a row away in New Zealand, with the 6 losses since 2011 coming by an average score of 32-15. The last couple have been high scoring with 74 points in Dunedin (Cooper with 18 points) and 71 in Auckland.
As with the 2014 meeting in Sydney, New Zealand led at halftime last week but failed to win. Going back to 2000, they’ve won 123/128 matches when ahead by 3 points or more at the break. The 2nd half will be an interesting sub plot this week given Hansen has raised the possibility of only taking 3 locks to the World Cup and using Kaino as cover in the engine room. For Australia it is a chance to for the finishers – this time including Pocock and Giteau amongst them – to continue the trend of closing out games well. They outscored South Africa by 10 points after halftime, Argentina by 23 and New Zealand by 11.
That finishing strength becomes more important when it is considered that the Wallabies have been ahead at halftime in just 1 of their previous 7 games. They’ve trailed by 17,8,9 and 17 points at halftime in the last 4 games against the All Blacks at this venue, with the hosts -5.5 on the 1st half handicap covering in 7 of the last 10 in the fixture there.
B Smith has 5 tries in 8 games against Australia and is 3.2 anytime scorer. Nonu has 5 in 9 home games against this opponent and is 3.75.
Kuridrani is 5.0 anytime scorer and has scored 5 in 14 away games.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jerome Kaino, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Henry Speight, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Dean Mumm, 20 Kane Douglas, 21 David Pocock, 22 Matt Giteau, 23 Kurtley Beale.