TRI-NATIONS: BLEDISLOE CUP: Saturday, August 13
AUSTRALIA V NEW ZEALAND, Telstra Stadium, Sydney, 11am (Irish time) (live Sky Sports 2)
New Zealand will be hoping to end a bad run of form at the Telstra Stadium tomorrow, having won just twice in their last seven Tests against the Wallabies at the venue.
Last year, Graham Henry was handed his first loss as All Blacks coach in Sydney and defeat to Australia this time around could spell an end to New Zealand's Tri-Nations bid.
Doubling up as the first match in the Bledisloe Cup series, tomorrow's clash, the 122nd between the trans-Tasman rivals, promises to be as cut-throat as ever - especially after both sides lost their tournament openers to South Africa in the last fortnight.
The Wallabies' bid to end a two-game losing streak has not been helped by injuries to play-making number 10 Stephen Larkham (shoulder), full-back Chris Latham (hamstring) and winger Wendell Sailor (knee), but they have been boosted by the return to fitness of David Lyons. The NSW Waratahs number 8 missed the 22-16 loss to the Springboks last month due to a virus.
With Larkham out for the season, regular centre Matt Giteau takes over at fly-half. Australian coach Eddie Jones has patched up his backline with Morgan Turinui starting in midfield with Stirling Mortlock, and debutants Drew Mitchell (Queensland Reds) and Mark Gerrard (ACT Brumbies) filling in for Latham at full-back, and Sailor on the right wing, respectively.
Up front, Al Baxter returns at tighthead prop, as does Lyons at number 8. Their presence will be needed in what is expected to be a ferocious forward battle. The lineout combat between the home side's Nathan Sharpe and Dan Vickerman, and awesome All Blacks duo Ali Williams and Chris Jack, will be worth the admission price alone.
For the visitors, skipper Tana Umaga has thankfully shaken off a ankle injury, sustained in last weekend's 22-16 loss to the 'Boks, to start.
Definitely missing the Sydney showdown is Byron Kelleher (concussion). The talented Chiefs scrum-half was forced off with the knock, after being floored by South African lock Victor Matfield, early on in Johannesburg last Saturday.
Matfield was subsequently cited, and cleared of any wrong-doing by the IRB, although controversy still reigns over the incident. Former Terenure scrum-half and coach Kevin Putt has claimed on New Zealand television that Kelleher's concussion was caused by a "metal plate" that Matfield allegedly wears under his protective arm guard.
Putt insisted that South African captain John Smit told him previously that he was "scared of" playing against Matfield because the Blue Bulls giant "wore a metal plate under the protective bandages" on his arm. Both Smit and South African coach Jake White have dismissed the claim as "laughable."
Kelleher's place in the All Blacks' line-up has gone to the dependable Piri Weepu, a replacement last weekend. Elsewhere, Henry, who boasts an unchanged pack, has recalled Auckland flyer Joe Rokocoko on the wing, allowing Mils Muliaina to shift back into his regular full-back role.
The cobwebs would have been blown off the All Blacks last weekend, in what was their first outing for four weeks. Richie McCaw and Daniel Carter should be back to match pace too, and the visitors can at least, take the momentum of last Saturday's bonus point to Sydney.
Interestingly enough, a win for the Wallabies by more than fifteen points would see them back to the top of the IRB's World rankings. That's likely to be the last thing on Eddie Jones' mind come tomorrow. A repeat of last August's error-ridden, yet deserved 23-18 win at Homebush would do just fine for the Wallabies.
Australia: Drew Mitchell; Mark Gerrard, Stirling Mortlock, Morgan Turinui, Lote Tuqiri; Matt Giteau, George Gregan (Capt); Bill Young, Jeremy Paul, Al Baxter, Daniel Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, John Roe, George Smith, David Lyons.
Replacements: Brendan Cannon, Matt Dunning, Mark Chisholm, Phil Waugh, Chris Whitaker, Elton Flatley, Clyde Rathbone.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Rico Gear, Tana Umaga (Capt), Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko; Dan Carter, Piri Weepu; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Carl Hayman, Chris Jack, Ali Williams, Jerry Collins, Richie McCaw, Rodney So'oialo.
Replacements: Derren Witcombe, Greg Somerville, James Ryan, Marty Holah, Kevin Senio, Luke McAlister, Leon MacDonald.
Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England)