By Andrew Elliott
AUSTRALIA will unleash all their big guns on New Zealand in the Rugby Championship decider at ANZ Stadium on Saturday as they seek to end a ten-match winless streak against the All Blacks that stretches back to 2011.
Undoubtedly the main talking point is the Wallabies decision to pick a back-row with David Pocock at No 8 and Michael Hooper at openside. Hooper returns to start after serving a one-week ban for ‘striking’ Argentina fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, where he missed playing in the club fixture between Manly and Randwick.
Inside-centre Matt Giteau has also been recalled after missing the 34-9 triumph over the Pumas in Mendoza, while Scott Fardy, Scott Sio, Sekope Kepu, James Horwill and former Exeter Chiefs lock Dean Mumm have all been named in Michael Cheika’s 31-man squad for the Sydney Test.
With Australia leading the Rugby Championship from the All Blacks on points difference, New Zealand are bracing themselves for a full frontal assault, as the Wallabies look to secure their first Rugby Championship title.
Cheika, the former Waratahs head coach, has been credited with turning an oft-mocked Wallaby pack into a more aggressive outfit. But All Black lock Brodie Retallick, the reigning World Rugby Player of the Year, says his side are ready for the physical challenge.
“You’re going to get guys who try to outmuscle you. You have to make a stand and match them – you can’t be pushed around like that,” said Retallick, 24.
“Every week we talk about the need to be physical and win that battle. This week we need to make sure we step up to the mark as a pack.
“That’s probably where they’ve made huge improvements, around their physicality and their pack.
“The way the Waratahs play is a combative style – they’re in your face and always running hard at you. Michael (Cheika) has taken that into the Wallabies as their mentality.
“We have to be up for the challenge and be better and more physical than they are. If you can stop that, turn it round and make it our strength, that will go a long way to helping us win.”
Australia have not claimed the Bledisloe Cup since 2002 and New Zealand have won 25 of the past 31 Tests against the Wallabies, so it came as no surprise when Cheika said: “I don’t enjoy being the underdog, I just think that’s what we are.”
Jean de Villiers will return as South Africa skipper on Saturday against Argentina, his first Test since dislocating his kneecap and suffering significant ligament damage against Wales in Cardiff last November.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, whose side are still looking for their first win in this year’s truncated Rugby Championship and have never lost to the Pumas in 19 Tests, said: “Jean’s comeback is truly remarkable and very inspirational.
“I can’t wait to see what he can offer playing next to exciting youngsters such as Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel.
“Jean now has 160 minutes of rugby behind him since his comeback a month ago and I’m very satisfied that he’ll be able to make his mark as a player and captain.”
The return of de Villers means Kriel moves from the centre to the wing, while injuries have ruled out openside Francois Louw and prop Jannie du Plessis, with Marcell Coetzee and Vincent Koch coming into the side as replacements.
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade has rung the changes for the clash in Durban after dropping eight players from the team who lost to Australia, including veteran back-row Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
Australia: Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell; Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps; David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Scott Fardy, James Horwill, Dean Mumm, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore, Scott Sio.
Subs: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Greg Holmes, Will Skelton, Ben McCalman, Nic White, Matt Toomua, Kurtley Beale.
New Zealand: Ben Smith; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Sonny Bill Williams, Julian Savea; Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino, Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock.
Subs: Codie Taylor, Ben Franks, Nepo Laulala, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Malakai Fekitoa.
South Africa: Willie Le Roux; Jesse Kriel, Jean de Villiers (capt), Damian de Allende, Bryan Habana; Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar; Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Vincent Koch, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Heinrich Brussow, Marcell Coetzee, Schalk Burger.
Subs: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Cobus Reinach, Pat Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo.