Rugby Tips: Australia v New Zealand
Australia get a near-instant chance to bounce back from the disappointment of losing to the British and Irish Lions when they take on New Zealand in the opening game of the Rugby Championship on Saturday. New Zealand, meanwhile, start this tournament having won every game in the inaugural competition.
For the Wallabies, new coach Euan McGregor has named eight new players in his squad of thirty for the game. The big surprises are the omission of prop Benn Robinson and scrum half Nick Phipps. Phipps has been the best of a bunch of players trailng in Will Genia’s wake and would only have been a replacement anyway, but Robinson, along with the altogether more sensibly spelled Ben Alexander and Tatafu Polota-Nau have given the Australians their best front row for almost two decades and with hooker Polota-Nau still recovering from the arm injury which ruled him out of the Lions series McKenzie had been expected to stick with the two veteran props alongside Stephen Moore, who had proved a more than capable deputy at hooker.
The big news, though, is the return to the fold of the man former coach Robbie Deans hated with a passion, Quade Cooper. Nothing could signal a clearer break from the old regime and Cooper seems nailed on to wear the fly half jersey against the country of his birth, with James O’Connor switching back to the wing, especially with both Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale still unavailable.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, have had entirely different selection problems. With coach Steve Hansen declaring Richie McCaw fit to return to the side as captain, they are faced with having to leave out almost as many forwards as they can select. Liam Messum and Sam Cane won the Super XV title with Waikato two weeks ago and were part of the All Blacks squad which whitewashed an admittedly-weak French side 3-0 in June, but could find themselves missing this game if, as expected, Hansen goes with a back three of McCaw, Kieran Reid and Victor Vito.
Behind the scrum, the battle for the number nine jersey continues between Aaron Smith and Piri Weepu. Meanwhile, they could be in an unusual position of their own with regards to the fly half situation. Aaron Cruden was another winning Waikato player in the Super XV and on the way to that title they beat Dan Carter’s Canterbury side, but neither of them played well and both kicked particularly badly. If neither has shown an improvement in form in training then Weepu’s own skills as a goal kicker might give him the edge over Smith, even though the latter is the more mobile nowadays.
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Picking a winner from these two is harder than recent records suggest it should be. New Zealand come in on the back of three easy home wins, but their last away game was a defeat to England. The Australians were only badly beaten in one game against the Lions, but won one of the others and should’ve won the other. They are the more battle hardened side and at 9/4 with Sportingbet this is a game where you should back the underdog for your sports picks.