Deans banks on back-row firepower
July 9, 2009

Australia coach Robbie Deans has predicted a fast and furious Tri-Nations opener against the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday, stacking his bench with back-row options in anticipation of a final burst in the closing stages.

Wycliff Palu returns to add his bulk at No.8, the Waratahs powerhouse the only change to the starting XV that defeated France 22-6 in June 27. Openside George Smith will join an elite group of players when he wins his 100th cap, Richard Brown completing the back-row.

Nathan Sharpe and James Horwill pack down in the second-row of an experienced tight-five, with Benn Robinson, Stephen Moore and Al Baxter starting up front.

Stirling Mortlock leads the side from outside centre, with the dual-kicking options of Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes starting at No.10 and 12 respectively. Luke Burgess will wear the scrum-half jersey, with Will Genia set to make his debut off the bench. In the back-three, Adam-Ashley Cooper holds off competition from James O'Connor to start at fullback, with Drew Mitchell and Lachie Turner manning the wings.

Deans is expecting a fierce battle in the contact area, with All Blacks Richie McCaw and Rodney So'oialo set to bolster their side.

"You can only put 15 blokes on the ground at a time, but it's where we expect the contest to be. It's going to be physical, it will be fast," Deans said. "Where we possibly didn't play 80 minutes last year we'll have to play 80 minutes this year. We've got great versatility through the backs so we don't see a lot of risk."

Palu returns after two Sydney club games, with Deans identifying his ball carrying and physicality as two major pluses. A year ago Deans started the Eden Park Test with Smith and Waugh as his flankers as a fired-up All Blacks avenged their Sydney defeat with a 39-10 hiding.

With Pocock and Waugh ready to explode off the bench, he hoped the final 20 minutes could be telling.

"They've got high workrates and there is the opportunity now for players who claim good position first, there's a greater opportunity to be rewarded for that."

Another year into his coaching tenure, Deans felt his team were a better unit than in 2008. But he was having nothing of the All Blacks being labelled under strength.

"There's no such thing," he said. "They've got a very experienced pack. They'll tell you otherwise of course. But they'll be looking to that experience and pushing those buttons to draw a response.

"Rodney's going to be fresh, as is Richie. (The breakdown) will be an important area of the game."

Australia: 15. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), 14. Lachie Turner (NSW Waratahs) , 13. Stirling Mortlock (Brumbies, captain), 12. Berrick Barnes (Queensland Reds), 11. Drew Mitchell (Western Force), 10. Matt Giteau (Brumbies), 9. Luke Burgess (NSW Waratahs), 8. Wycliff Palu (NSW Waratahs), 7. George Smith (Brumbies), 6. Richard Brown (Western Force), 5. Nathan Sharpe (Western Force), 4. James Horwill (Queensland Reds), 3. Al Baxter (NSW Waratahs), 2. Stephen Moore (Brumbies), 1. Benn Robinson (NSW Waratahs)

Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau (NSW Waratahs), 17. Ben Alexander (Brumbies), 18. Dean Mumm (NSW Waratahs), 19. Phil Waugh (NSW Waratahs), 20. David Pocock (Western Force), 21. Will Genia (Queensland Reds), 22. James O'Connor (Western Force)


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