Centurion: Keven Mealamu will become on the third All Black to reach 100 caps against Australia

by Ben Coles

AFTER A tough summer, Australia are available at unprecedented odds of 8/1 ahead of this weekend’s test against New Zealand at home in Brisbane.

The odds reflect not only the troubles of the Wallabies throughout the inaugural Rugby Championship, but also the supreme dominance of the All Blacks against their Southern Hemisphere rivals. A horrendous list of injuries only got worse for Robbie Deans this week following the withdrawal of Ben Alexander yesterday, meaning the Brumbies prop joins Will Genia, David Pocock, James Horwill and many more in the treatment room.

Despite the pressure on Deans during The Rugby Championship, Australia finished in second place behind the All Blacks and won their final match away against Argentina in Rosario. The victory was seen a landmark for a handful of the young Wallabies out on the field, with the likes of Michael Hooper excelling under huge pressure. Returning home to face the All Blacks though, without their alarming list of star names, is the most daunting of prospects.

Fears of New Zealand losing their edge after their Rugby World Cup success have proved to be misplaced. Using their never-ending conveyor belt of talent, new names continue to pull on the black jersey and perform like seasoned veterans. Replacing Brad Thorn has been a perfect example of this, with Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick excelling at Test level.

Saturday’s clash however will be a celebration for a couple of veterans. Nathan Sharpe will be making his final appearance on home soil in Wallaby colours before he retires after the November tour, whilst hooker Keven Mealamu runs out for the 100th time.

Mealamu will become only the third All Black in history to reach a century, following in the footsteps of team-mates Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina. Still regarded as one of the best in the world in his position, Mealamu will be an integral part of a New Zealand scrum looking to dominante their Tasman rivals.

The All Black spine of Mealamu, Sam Whitelock, McCaw, Dan Carter and Conrad Smith remains intact and simply gives the world champions the edge when it comes to talent and experience. Brisbane and Suncorp Stadium have proven to be an unhappy hunting ground for New Zealand in recent years, so to win at one of the few remaining Australian fortresses would underline their dominance.

An Australian win is not impossible however. Ensuring quick possession at the breakdown is a must to avoid McCaw and Kieran Read’s skill at turning over the ball. By playing with width and holding their own in the set-piece, the Wallabies will create enough opportunities to threaten the scoreboard, particularly through the boot of the impressive Mike Harris.

Scoring against New Zealand though is never easy, and stopping them can appear impossible. Their offloading game has reached new heights and Australia will be constantly drained trying to stop their rhythm, after missing 16 tackles in the 1st Test and 29 in the 2nd. Pride will be on the line for the Wallabies, but chances of victory appear desperately slim.

Australia v New Zealand
Saturday, 20th October 2012 at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kick-off: 10:55 BST live on Sky Sports 1

Australia: Mike Harris; Nick Cummins, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper; Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Sitaleki Timani, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Radike Samo.

Replacements: James Hanson, Sekope Kepu, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell

New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear; Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumaina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read.

Replacements: Andrew Hore, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith

Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_