Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong
Coaching rivlary ensures Bledisloe is 'alive'
October 31, 2008
Wallabies coach Robbie Deans looks on during an Australian Wallabies captain's run at Hong Kong Stadium in Hong Kong, China on October 31, 2008.
The fixture is far from being a 'dead rubber' in the eyes of Wallabies coach Robbie Deans © Getty Images

The financial implications of playing in Hong Kong are obvious but the real bottom line ahead of tomorrow's historic Bledisloe Cup Test between the All Blacks and Wallabies looms as job satisfaction for the respective coaches.

The curt response spoke volumes when Australian coach Robbie Deans was asked whether it had been challenging to prepare his side for a match that had no trophy at stake. "Who said this was a dead rubber?" he glared, irritated at a suggestion the fourth trans-Tasman contest of the season held only novelty value.

Both camps have spoken earnestly about this ground-breaking match assisting the growth of the game in Asia, as well as serving as a welcome revenue generator. But the motivation for Deans and All Blacks counterpart Graham Henry will simply be to win at Hong Kong Stadium (9.30pm NZT) before their rivalry goes on hold until the 2009 Tri-Nations.

Deans is still enjoying his honeymoon period at the Wallabies' helm after being jilted by the New Zealand Rugby Union. But for Henry the scrutiny will never relent in light of his reappointment following World Cup failure in Cardiff 12 months ago.

Should Australia share the series 2-2, Deans may feel he has made progress quicker than expected; 3-1 to New Zealand and they head north for their Grand Slam attempt in a sounder frame of mind. All Blacks captain Richie McCaw offered an insight into the pressure the world's No 1 ranked team was experiencing despite the silverware only being on show in Hong Kong.

"We're lucky it's locked up," he admitted. "It would be very disappointing to end up 2-2 -- you feel like you've earned it more with 3-1."

The sting was partially taken out of the series when the All Blacks retained both the Bledisloe and Tri-Nations title in Brisbane on September 13. However, the first meeting between New Zealand and Australia on neutral soil since their 1991 World Cup semi-final in Dublin contains intriguing subplots other than the coaching duel.

In terms of preparation, a series of four camps has served as the Wallabies' build-up -- a conditioning exercise devoid of competitive match play. The bulk of the All Blacks, meanwhile, were reintroduced gradually into the domestic competition.

They assembled in Auckland on Sunday, although players not involved in the Air NZ Cup final had a trial against a New Zealand Barbarians line-up last week. All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith felt the selection of a core of players involved in the decider between Wellington and Canterbury would prove beneficial.

"Last week was important for us and we've got eight in the squad that played the final, they've played under a bit of pressure. We can count on them being match ready," he said.

Backline maestro Daniel Carter's readiness is trickier to quantify ahead of a first test start at second five-eighth since 2004. He consciously skirted Canterbury's campaign in order to rest before this tour and a six-month sabbatical in France that will see him play continuously leading into next year's Tri-Nations.

Carter was typically comfortable with his predicament saying: "I think I've played enough test rugby to be able to slot back in."

Henry shifted his prized asset to midfield in order to start Stephen Donald at pivot for the first time in his seven-cap career, the rationale being both relatively underdone playmakers could take pressure off each other. The biggest backline selection issue for the All Blacks was forced upon Henry yesterday when new father Mils Muliaina opted to stay at home on parental duty.

The 65-test fullback will not arrive until after the Scotland match in Edinburgh next Sunday (NZT), leaving Auckland utility Isaia Toeava to marshall a back three featuring debutant wing Hosea Gear.

The Wallabies also have personnel issues.

Deans has had to cover the losses of Wycliff Palu, Rocky Elsom, James Horwill, Hugh McMenamin and mst recently Adam Freier from his pack resources in Brisbane. Elsom's move to Leinster hands Dean Mumm an unlikely second test start on the blindside flank, No.8 Richard Brown runs on for the first time while lock Mark Chisholm earns only his first cap of the season.

Other than being forced to introduce some promising rookies, Deans also felt his side's lack of recent match experience gave New Zealand an edge.

"The reality is there's nothing like playing, so the All Blacks probably have an advantage to that end," he said.

Meanwhile, both sides will be on a level playing field in a some respects -- dealing with 29degC heat and forecast 75 per cent humidity, and facing a modified version of the ELVS that sees the return of full arm penalties at any ruck infringements detected by Irish referee Alan Lewis.

Teams for the Bledisloe Cup rugby test between New Zealand and Australia at Hong Kong Stadium:

New Zealand: Isaia Toeava, Hosea Gear, Conrad Smith, Daniel Carter, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Jimmy Cowan, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Neemia Tialata, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Greg Somerville, Anthony Boric, Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Ma'a Nonu, Cory Jane.

Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Peter Hynes, Ryan Cross, Stirling Mortlock, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Luke Burgess, Richard Brown, George Smith, Dean Mumm, Nathan Sharpe, Mark Chisholm, Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.

Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Matt Dunning, Phil Waugh, David Pocock, Sam Cordingley, Berrick Barnes, Lachie Turner.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).


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