With John Afoa still recovering from a fractured cheek there is no Ulster involvement in this weeks Tri Nations match but it’s still worth getting up early on Saturday mornings as this encounter between New Zealand and Australia could not only ignite this season’s Tri Nations but it could also stick a rocket under everyone’s world cup preparations. In short I’m expecting a cracker, and an explosive one at that!
Anyone watching southern hemisphere rugby recently has to be aware that Quade Cooper, heir apparent to Carters crown as “King of Out Half’s”, has been on fire over the last few months with the maverick genius playing some outstanding rugby. Throw Queensland accomplice Genia into the mix and sprinkle on some O’Connor magic and your cooking up a storm. Add Ioane, Ashley-Cooper and Beale and you’ve got the best back line in world rugby – when on form.
However, Australia have never won at Eden Park and the All Blacks looked more comfortable, than the Aussies did, as they pulled away from South Africa in the second half last week, albeit with a different backline, and while this may be regarded as one of their older starting line-ups they are not exactly over the hill. If they can eek out a lead then New Zealand certainly have the ability to close the game out – something the excitable Aussies may struggle to do.
To me the key battle is going to between McCaw and Pocock. McCaw looked sluggish in the S15 final after a long season with Canterbury but still ruled the roost last Saturday and Pocock is in reality still on the comeback trail, after injury, and this might be enough to give the edge to the home side.
However I look at those Australian backs and I see them want to make a big statement, so, despite McCaw’s best efforts, I’m giving them the nod – Aussies by 10. [The kiss of death!]
New Zealand: (1-15) Wyatt Crockett, Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Ali Williams, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter, Hosea Gear, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Mils Muliaina. (16-22) Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Adam Thomson, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Sonny Bill Williams.
Australia: (1-15) Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander, Rob Simmons, James Horwill, Rocky Elsom (captain), David Pocock, Ben McCalman, Will Genia, Quade Cooper, Digby Ioane, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale. (16-22) Saia Fainga’a, Pekahou Cowan, Dan Vickerman, Scott Higginbotham, Luke Burgess, Anthony Fainga’a, Lachie Turner.
Ref: Craig Joubert