Australia v New Zealand, Tri-Nations, Sydney, September 11
New-look All Blacks eye clean sweep
September 9, 2010
Will All Blacks captain Richie McCaw steer his side to an unprecedented Tri-Nations clean sweep? © Getty Images
With the Tri-Nations title and Bledisloe Cup decided some weeks ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that Saturday's clash between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney offers little interest for the neutral. But such has been the sensational nature of this year's battle for southern hemisphere supremacy that the eyes of the world will be trained on events at ANZ Stadium in the hope of witnessing another modern classic.
The first meeting between the sides - a 49-28 victory for the All Blacks in Melbourne - produced 10 tries, two sin-binnings and a red card for Australia's Drew Mitchell and while the re-match in Christchurch a week later failed to deliver as much drama the outcome was the same - a 20-10 win for the hosts.
But Australia ended a 47-year high veldt drought against the Springboks last time out and will be confident of erasing another unwanted record this weekend - a woeful run of nine straight defeats at the hands of the their Trans-Tasman rivals. However, the All Blacks have shown little mercy in this year's Tri-Nations and that is unlikely to change as they eye a tournament clean sweep.
Australia - Player to Watch: Quade Cooper. The New Zealand-born Wallabies playmaker is set to end speculation over his playing future after this game, with latest reports suggesting he is set to commit his future to union. Having missed the two earlier games with the All Blacks through suspension, what better way to justify the hype than with an outstanding display in what will be his Bledisloe bow?
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Aaron Cruden. Long-heralded as a star of the future, the 21-year-old fly-half has been given a chance in the here and now to prove his international credentials. His first start in the famous All Blacks No.10 jersey comes following an injury to Dan Carter. Expect him to lean a little on his experienced team-mates - but not that much.
Key Battle: It took a monumental effort from the All Blacks to shackle the in-form Wallabies back division last time out and a similar shift will surely be required in Sydney. Australia's defence has been flaky at times this season - having conceded 19 tries compared to New Zealand's relatively water-tight seven - and any similar shortcomings are set to be punished by the All Blacks' ruthless class of 2010.
Trivia: The Bledisloe Cup was donated by the then Governor General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe, for competition between the two countries in 1931.
Stats: New Zealand captain Richie McCaw is set to eclipse Sean Fitzpatrick's 51-Test record as All Blacks skipper while Australia are looking to join the 2000 and 2008 Wallabies as the only sides to have won three times during a single Tri-Nations campaign.
Odds: Bet365 have the All Blacks as heavy 2/5 favourites to burst the Wallabies' bubble - again - but if you fancy the hosts you can have them at a tempting 2/1.
"We can't afford to continue to live in that moment." - Wallabies coach Robbie Deans refuses to dwell on his side's Bloemfontein triumph.
"Inside they'll feel the same as I feel, that it's an opportunity to give your heart and soul to try and make people proud of you and maybe lift the spirits of the community." - All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith hopes his side will offer some relief to earthquake-hit Christchurch.
Prediction: New Zealand have been a class apart in this year's Tri-Nations and the hope generated by Australia's recent heroics in Bloemfontein will only serve to ensure their latest All Blacks reverse is all the more crushing.