World Cup spots at stake

All Blacks coach to decide on final travelling party after Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia

New Zealand All Blacks' Kieran Read (left) is tackled by Australian Wallabies' Michael Hooper (7) during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match in Sydney on Aug 8.
New Zealand All Blacks' Kieran Read (left) is tackled by Australian Wallabies' Michael Hooper (7) during their Bledisloe Cup rugby match in Sydney on Aug 8.PHOTO: REUTERS

AUCKLAND • Tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup clash between New Zealand and Australia has all the ingredients of a great match, with World Cup considerations looming large, the All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said yesterday.

"We're going to find out who's got the steel and who hasn't," he said after both camps announced the teams for their last hit-out before deciding on their final World Cup squads at the end of the month.

The Wallabies hold the upper hand, having beaten the All Blacks 27-19 to claim the Rugby Championship in Sydney last weekend, and have made six changes, while the world champion All Blacks made only three as they seek redemption.

At stake are the Bledisloe Cup which Australia last won in 2002, the All Blacks' 29-year unbeaten record against the Wallabies at Eden Park in Auckland, and a last chance for all players to push for a seat on the plane to next month's World Cup in England.

"If people want to be on it, then they've got to turn up and perform on Saturday," Hansen said. "Everything is with an eye down the road. In a year like the World Cup, these are the only Test matches we get to ascertain where everyone's at, so you've got to be brave."

The All Blacks have added former Sevens star Victor Vito to their starting line-up in an attempt to match the Wallabies at the crucial breakdown area, with regular No. 6 Jerome Kaino dropping to the bench.

Hansen has taken the bold move of carrying no lock reserves, with Kaino to take a second-row role if required and Sam Cane to come on as a replacement flanker.

The Australian shake-up includes a recall for fly-half Quade Cooper and the benching of David Pocock, whose partnership with Michael Hooper last week created havoc among the All Blacks forwards at the breakdown.

Cooper is part of a new-look inside backs trio with scrum-half Nic White and centre Matt Toomua, but Hansen said the re-arrangement was to be expected.

"We're forcing Australia to bring the best they've got," he said. "While eveyone's saying we're under pressure, I think Australia now have put themselves in a place where people have got high expectations of them and with that comes pressure too."

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore described Eden Park's hostile environment as the right place for Australia to prepare for the pressure they will face at the World Cup.

He said: "We have to get used to playing away from home and being comfortable in that environment and being tight as a team to go out there and play as well as we can."

Amid this fierce rivalry, Richie McCaw will become the most capped player in Test rugby history in tomorrow's match, after the 34-year-old openside flanker joined former Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll on 141 caps in the defeat by the Wallabies last week.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2015, with the headline 'WORLD CUP SPOTS AT STAKE'. Subscribe