Preview: Australia v New Zealand

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Updated: August 26, 2011

Many rugby experts are of the opinion that the 2011 Rugby World Cup is going to boil down to a winner-take-all show-down in Eden Park Auckland on October 23 between those two great rivals, Australia and New Zealand.

So what better way to warm up for the tournament than a 2011 TriNations winner-take-all showdown in SunCorp Stadium Brisbane between those very same two teams?

And to make the setting all the more perfect, with much of the Wallaby squad coming from the Queensland Reds and much of the All Blacks coming from the Crusaders, the ground is the very same one as that which hosted the SupeRugby final between the two franchises back in July.

Last week I’ll fully admit I got my prediction wrong – even though Graham Henry picked a weakened side for their clash in Port Elizabeth, I thought they’d come out on top yet the Springboks were able to rediscover their gritty forwards game that brought them so much success from 2007-2009 with Morné Steyn kicking 6 penalties to lead them to an 18-5 victory which gave them something of a boost heading to the World Cup.

But although Saturday’s match is also on the road for the All Blacks, they have picked virtually a full-strength squad for this encounter which no doubt proves they see it as a perfect test of their big-game readiness with their grudge encounter with the French to follow just under a month later.

The star names of Dan Carter & Richie McCaw return as does their veteran fullback Mils Muliaina. Cory Jane and Zac Guildford appear to be front runners in what has been a fascinating battle for starting wing spots, and Piri Weepu gets the nod at scrum-half.

As for the Wallabies, although they may have designs on a third William Webb Ellis trophy themselves, they will no doubt be keen to add to their meagre Tri nations haul of just two titles in 15 years of the tournament’s existence.

To this end they also have a strong lineup on the park and it will be the first stint as captain for Queensland Reds hero James Horwill. Although Rocky Elsom hasn’t made too much public comment on being stripped of the captaincy, many think the move could well free him up to get down to what he does best – linking up with David Pocock as one of Test rugby’s most potent flanker pairings.
Once again we will see a stern test in Brisbane for the supposed successor to Dan Carter’s crown as the world’s greatest out-half, none other than Quade Cooper, though even if he should have a good outing on the day, many will wonder if it is because he finds himself in his Brisbane comfort zone as opposed to the near-meltdown he seemed to have when these two sides last met in Eden Park a few weeks ago.

The keys to this match will be two-fold the way I see it – first, the ability of the Australian centres Pat McCabe and Anthony Fainga’a to withstand the onslaught of the marauding All Black surges & offloads, and second, the ability of Cooper and his fellow backs like Kurtley Beale & Digby Ioane to make the most of turnover possession before the opposition has time to regroup.

Of course should the Wallabies fall short, many will wonder how much they missed the services of James O’Connor, who received a deserved one-match ban by the ARU for failing to show up for the official announcement of the World Cup squad. No doubt he will behave a bit better when the tournament proper rolls around!

As for my prediction, despite the absence of the man who kicked the winning points the last time Australia came out on top in Hong Kong last year, I’m still going for a home win, by a narrow enough margin, say, 4-6 pts, with Quade Cooper as the catalyst.

Either way there’s no doubting that it has been a fascinating Tri nations Championship this year and one that proves that however they fared, all three will be extremely hard to beat in the World Cup. And with its 11am kickoff this match acts as a perfect curtain-raiser for Irish fans before their clash with England! I’ll be previewing that clash at the Aviva Stadium for you tomorrow right here on Sports News Ireland. JLP

You can read my blog at http://www.harpinonrugby.net/

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