The All Blacks return to the scene of their World Cup triumph for the second time this year, and will look to secure the Bledisloe Cup if they can maintain their unbeaten run against the Wallabies at Eden Park that goes back to 1986.
That season, Australia snapped a four-year reign by the All Blacks with victories in Wellington as well as Eden Park, as Andrew Slack’s Wallabies, with legends like Nick Farr-Jones, David Campese and Michael Lynagh triumphing 22-9 twenty-six years ago – which remains the last time, and just the fourth, victory over New Zealand at their great Auckland headquarters.
The Wallabies hard fought victories against Wales must seem an eternity ago, whitewashing the Northern Hemisphere’s best team in the Grand Slam champions, but it is the memory of those gritty triumphs (by 8, 2 and 1 point margins) that will steel this week’s underdogs with the knowledge they can compete for 80 minutes.
While the All Blacks may have been victorious, coach Steve Hansen echoed counterpart Robbie Deans in saying it was a match where both teams were “rusty”.
Some would claim that the All Blacks look the team to beat, and on the most rudimentary of championship winning statistics – that is, victory away from home – then the ten-time Tri-Nations winners could give themselves a handy advantage with back-to-back wins.
For the visitors, their hopes have been damaged with the news that David Pocock, their captain and one of their match changing players, has been ruled out, and while any coach will talk about their squad and backups – there is little doubt that the scratching of one of the game’s great opensides will hurt the Wallabies.
The World Champions are not without injury concerns of their own, losing loosehead prop Tony Woodcock, otherwise most of the starting team from Sydney will back up at Eden Park.
The visitors will look to Will Genia, while ‘postponed’ retiree Nathan Sharpe will be a critical figure in a Wallabies team that has lost two frontline skippers so far this year – although there must be some creative attacking support for the new captain (perhaps in Quade Cooper).
For the All Blacks it will be much of the same, with most players having solid outings, although Hansen signalled out the lineout as an area for improvement, despite some advantages in the scrum, while the visitors ruling of the gain line was perhaps the winning of the test.
Most telling is that captain Richie McCaw stressed that the last time the All Blacks played the same opponent in consecutive weeks, Ireland almost recorded their first victory against New Zealand in over a century.
Australia versus New Zealand (145th test / 169th if NSW matches included)
Auckland, New Zealand
Kick off (1935 local, 0735 GMT, 1735 NSW/ACT, 0935 SAT, 0435 ARG)
Referee: N Owens (WRU)
AR: A Rolland (IRFU)
AR: L Van der Merwe (SARU)
TMO: B Skeen (NZRU)
HEAD TO HEAD:
Please note these stats do not include the 24 matches played between 1920 and 1928 when NSW represented Australia and played the All Blacks.
Played 144: New Zealand 98, Australia 41, Drawn 5
Last match: Australia 19 - 27 New Zealand @ ANZ Stadium, Sydney (18 August, 2012)
New Zealand record at Eden Park: Played 72, Won 60, Drawn 2
New Zealand record at home: Played 239, Won 196, Lost 37, Drawn 6
Australia record at Eden Park: Played 25, Won 5, Lost 20 (note this includes one match v Wales)
Australia record away from home: Played 246, Won 108, Lost 132, Drawn 6
Point’s aggregate: New Zealand 2819, Australia 1947 (20-14)
Tries aggregate: New Zealand 374, Australia 221 (3-2)
18 August, 2012: New Zealand 27 – 19 Australia (1st round of The Rugby Championship)
23 June, 2012: New Zealand 60 – 0 Ireland (3rd test June tour)
16 June, 2012: New Zealand 22 – 19 Ireland (2nd test June tour)
9 June, 2012: New Zealand 42 – 10 Ireland (1st test June tour)
23 October, 2011: New Zealand 8 – 7 France (RWC FINAL)
16 October, 2011: New Zealand 20 – 6 Australia (RWC SF)
18 August, 2012: Australia 19 – 27 New Zealand (1st round of The Rugby Championship)
23 June, 2012: Australia 20 – 19 Wales (4rd test June tour)
16 June, 2012: Australia 25 – 23 Wales (3rd test June tour)
9 June, 2012: Australia 27 – 19 Wales (2nd test June tour)
5 June, 2012: Australia 6 – 9 Scotland (1st test June tour)
3 December, 2011: Australia 24 – 18 Wales (EOY tour)
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.
Australia (revised): 15 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (c), 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.