3N Preview: Australia v New Zealand

After two fierce Tri-Nations clashes in the past two weeks the action is not set to slow down when the two trans-Tasman rivals and two powerhouses of rugby, Australia and New Zealand, do battle this Saturday in Melbourne, in the Tri-Nations series and for the Bledisloe Cup to boot.

New Zealand, after five painful years which saw the Bledisloe Cup firmly in the grasp of a golden Wallaby outfit, have hoarded the coveted silverware since 2003.

And it is going to take a monumental effort from Australia to take it back, because not only do they need to win in Melbourne on Saturday, they will need to win again – or draw – in Auckland on July 21.

But perhaps not too much history should be taken into account for Saturday’s game.

Australia only narrowly lost to the Springboks at Newlands two weeks ago, after a Frans Steyn dream spell and New Zealand only beat the Boks after a late surge of their own.

There is no doubt that this Australian team, no matter their critics, can live with this All Black side for the greater period of Saturday’s fixture – the question is bound to be whether Australia will be able to defend those moments of brilliance that New Zealanders like Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko and Rodney So’oialo can pull out of their pockets in minutes of madness that can sink the best teams in the world.

Last week the All Blacks pulled away from the Boks when their bench simply outshone a fading South African team, scoring two tries in the final period to snatch the match.

Will they be able to do that against an Australian side that has proven it has one of the best defences in world rugby?

In some areas of the game Australia can definitely match their Antipodean rivals – in the second row, the halfbacks and the midfield.

But in other areas the All Blacks will be looking to press home the advantage – in the front row and in the back three particularly.

The Australian scrum just tipped the touted Bok front row beast, but then the Boks failed completely in that department against the All Blacks.

Perhaps Wallaby loosehead Matt Dunning put it best when he said, “At the moment our best is a little bit behind them but if we contain them and deliver our ball, maybe that’s enough to get us the win.”

Both Wallaby coach John Connolly and his All Black counterpart Graham Henry have tweaked their back three.

Adam Ashley-Cooper will bolster the Australian defence in Drew Mitchell’s stead, whilst Sitiveni Sivivatu, one of the stars last Saturday, will sit out – along with midfielder Isaia Toeava – with some bumps and bruises sustained in their Tri-Nations opener.

Julian Huxley, despite his endeavour, does not provide the same assurance at fullback that Leon MacDonald (if he comes through a groin strain scare) does, whilst if Tuqiri doesn’t find some fire soon, Rokocoko and Rico Gear could outshine their counterparts

The battle in the loose trio is bound to be a hotly fought aspect of the game, set to make this fixture a cracker of a Test match.

The Collins, McCaw and So’oialo triumvirate were awesome against the Boks and looked to be at their lethal best.

But George Smith has quietly entered the form of his life, and Rocky Elsom and Wycliff Palu, equally quietly, put in some telling performances two weeks ago. That said they will need to go some to create the necessary opportunities for their side both to score and to defend successfully.

At the end of the day the All Blacks remain the benchmark for rugby teams the world over.

And Henry, despite the changes, asserts that this is their best selection.

“We have selected our best team. It’s not the same team as last week, but it’s our best.”

Connolly is in agreement with that.

“New Zealand’s strength is in their depth,” he said.

“We saw the impact their [replacement] bench made against South Africa last we

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