Australia v New Zealand, Bledisloe Cup, Hong Kong, Oct 30
Wallabies eye Bledisloe turning-point
October 28, 2010
David Pocock is set to be the Wallabies' main man in Hong Kong © Getty Images
Australia and New Zealand will descend on Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday as the Wallabies eye an end to their demoralising losing streak against their Trans-Tasman rivals.
The third overseas Bledisloe Test, following the 2008 edition in Hong Kong and last year's jaunt to Tokyo, sees the Wallabies seeking to overcome a 10-Test losing run against the All Blacks that dates back over two years.
The All Blacks are sitting pretty as the world's number one side, having swept all before them en route to the Tri-Nations title. Their third Grand Slam tour attempt in five years is just around the corner but all eyes are on this weekend's showdown and extending their unbeaten streak to 16 Tests - two shy of minnows Lithuania's world record.
Australia - Player to Watch: David Pocock. The newly-anointed John Eales Medal winner will have another massive task on his hands as he again goes up against Richie McCaw, but he won't be fazed by the All Blacks' skipper after emerging from their Tri-Nations tussles with his reputation enhanced.
Australia - Team News: Drew Mitchell returns to the back-three alongside Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor while in the front-row there is a major boost as tight-head Ben Alexander makes his comeback after missing the Tri-Nations due to injury.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Dan Carter. Carter has been out of action since the All Blacks clinched the Tri-Nations title back in August, undergoing surgery to correct an ankle problem. He's sceptical about his ability to last the full 80 minutes so Stephen Donald will get a run at 10 to see if he can translate his excellent domestic form into Test-match heroics.
New Zealand - Team News: Aside from the expected return of Carter the big news was the omission of former league star Sonny Bill Williams from the All Black 22. Elsewhere, Joe Rokocoko returns in place of the injured Israel Dagg, Jerome Kaino is back at blindside and Jimmy Cowan comes in for the unfortunate Piri Weepu, who faces a long injury lay-off.
Key Battle: It's all in the head. The Wallabies need to overcome their fear of failure and play with their characteristic bravado for a full 80 minutes. Their reinforced pack looks to have plenty of go-forward but half measures do not beat this All Blacks side - it's going to need the big names, Elsom, Giteau, Sharpe, Cooper, Pocock, Alexander et al, to produce steely performances.
Trivia: Wallabies boss Robbie Deans helped New Zealand retain the Bledisloe Cup with a 2-1 series win in Australia in 1984.
Stats: New Zealand captain Richie McCaw needs one try to move clear at the top of their scoring charts against Australia - he's currently tied with Doug Howlett, Christian Cullen and Ian Kirkpatrick on eight.
"The philosophy was to reinforce what's happened over the last 12 months and this is the group of players that have done the job. It's the Test team that's been starting most test matches this year, it's really a thank you for what they've done." - All Blacks coach Graham Henry explains Sonny Bill's omission.
"From the team's perspective, the combination that has been so effective throughout the year has now been re-established. When you look at how many players are returning from the Hong Kong Test in 2008, that continuity hasn't been common for us in recent times. But I think this is the first indication that we're starting to get some consistent time together as a group." - Australia coach Robbie Deans praises his in-form back-three.
Prediction: A rested and focused All Blacks group have a world record in their sights and seemingly have found the knack of winning ugly, the Wallabies' wait to continue in a narrow loss.