PREVIEW: All Black head coach Ian Foster doesn’t want his team to take their foot off the pedal when they face the Wallabies in the Bledisloe Cup return leg in Dunedin on Saturday.
New Zealand stormed to another Rugby Championship title with three wins from three matches and they now turn their attention to finalising their squad ahead of this year’s World Cup in France.
After a 38-7 win over the Wallabies in Melbourne last weekend, Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup tie is a dead rubber and Foster has made mass changes for the encounter.
However, momentum will be key heading into their World Cup opener against France on September 8 and that was Foster’s message to his players ahead of Saturday’s Test.
“The minute we take the pressure off and say [the result] doesn’t matter, then we’re in trouble,” said Foster.
“The exciting thing for us is the World Cup starts with a pretty big game so we need to be at a high point.
“It is our last chance to play in front of our fans and, even with some changes, it is a big opportunity for us to take another step forward as a team.”
There will be some new faces in New Zealand’s matchday 23. Flank Samipeni Finau and wing Shaun Stevenson will earn their first caps from kick-off, with Dallas McLeod to join them when he runs on from the bench.
Only Brodie Retallick, Ardie Savea and Will Jordan have kept their place from last week’s win over Australia at the MCG, with Jordan moving to fullback.
“This is the best team for us that we think has a job to do on Saturday, that’s the number one thing,” Foster said from Christchurch.
“The number two thing is we’ve got a lot of guys who have been with us, who have trained well and [we] really believe with what’s coming around the corner, this is a great opportunity to give a few guys a run.”
Meanwhile, Wallaby centre Samu Kerevi believes his team has the firepower to cause a major upset in Dunedin.
“We believe they’re beatable. They’re a class side and a great team but we believe in our game plan, we believe in the squad and the talent that we have,” said the Japan-based midfield back, who contended his side had the measure of the All Blacks for large patches of play last week.
“We did really well on those first 20 minutes, the first 30 minutes and even in the second half, coming out of the blocks.
“We need to lengthen that out to an 80-minute performance. We’ll just have to play our best game and not let too much pressure off.
“We understand it’s unacceptable to get those results – we’ve been hard on each other.”
Despite the All Blacks making wholesale changes for the match, Kerevi believes it is still going to be a mammoth task for his team.
“I think they’ve got great depth, so for players like that to get the opportunity, here in New Zealand, that’s a big lift for them,” Kerevi said.
“I think, personally, any All Black side you face, it’s going to be a great team.
“You try to find as many weaknesses they have and try to head in that direction.”
Players to watch
For New Zealand: Shaun Stevenson has been a try-scoring machine in Super Rugby over the last few seasons and he finally gets an opportunity to prove his worth on the international stage. Flank Samipeni Finau is the other debutant in the starting XV and he has some big shoes to fill. Shannon Frizell was in great form in the No.6 jersey in previous matches and Foster will be eager to see if Finau can bring that same intensity. After a great performance in the Rugby Championship opener against Argentina, Damian McKenzie finds himself back in the No.10 jersey and he will surely be a tough opponent for Australia’s Carter Gordon. McKenzie has the pace and skills to unlock the toughest defences and his decision-making will be key as well. Wing Leicester Fainga’anuku will also have a spotlight on him. He is a powerful ball carrier and he also has the speed to give any defence problems.
For Australia: Eddie Jones defended young playmaker Carter Gordon in the build-up to this week’s Test match. Gordon did not have the best outing against the All Blacks in Melbourne and fans will be keeping an eye on him in Dunedin. The Wallabies need some good performances from their flyhalves ahead of the World Cup and Gordon will be feeling the pressure to produce the goods. Wing Mark Nawaqanitawase has proven to be a tough customer out wide with a great step to match his speed. He is also a big boy and he is able to attract more than one defender, which will allow some space to develop somewhere else on the field. The same can be said for Samu Kerevi in the midfield. Braydon Ennor and Anton Lienert-Brown will have a tough time marking him.
Head to Head
New Zealand v Australia – Teams and Prediction
NZvAUS team form
NZvAUS previous results
New Zealand by 20 points.
New Zealand: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Samipeni Finau, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Tamaiti Williams.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Tupou Vaa’i, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Dallas McLeod.
Australia: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Jordan Petaia, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 Tate McDermott (captain), 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Tom Hooper, 6 Fraser McReight, 5 Richie Arnold, 4 Nick Frost, 3 Pone Fa’amausili, 2 David Porecki, 1 Angus Bell.
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 James Slipper, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Izaia Perese.
Date: Saturday, August 5
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 14.35 (12.35 AEST; 02.35 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be cloudy with a high of 10°C and a low of 5°C with a moderate breeze.
Referee: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
*Additional reporting: AAP & AFP