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Dublin: 1 °C Sunday 24 February, 2019

All Blacks stick with Barrett as Mo'unga misses out while injuries force Australia changes

The Australians are desperate for a win at ANZ Stadium in a fixture that doubles as the first Bledisloe Cup Test.

New Zealand's Beauden Barrett.
New Zealand's Beauden Barrett.

WALLABIES COACH MICHAEL Cheika has been forced to revamp his front row and gamble on an untested centres pairing for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against New Zealand.

Australia are desperate for a win at ANZ Stadium in a fixture that doubles as the first Bledisloe Cup Test, but were dealt a blow when loose-head Scott Sio failed a fitness test.

His shoulder problem means Tom Robertson has been drafted into the front row, alongside recalled hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau and veteran Sekope Kepu at blindside.

Robertson will be making only his third Test start.

“He (Sio) could do certain things and he couldn’t do others and it was 50/50 but I prefer to call it relatively early in the week and give him a chance to get ready for next week and give Tom a chance to prepare well for this week’s contest,” said Cheika.

“Roberston is only young and coming in on the scene but I think he’s had his best year in the pro game by far.

“I think his season with the Waratahs was excellent and in particular in relation to his work ethic.”

Being selected for a Bledisloe match is life-changing for Robertson, who used grew up watching the annual trans-Tasman battle.

“I (watched) the Bledisloe Cup since I was a kid and to actually be starting in one is a dream come true and I just want Saturday to come quickly,” he said.

“I think I’m a lot fitter this year and that’s allowed me to do more things on the field and not just have more carries and tackles and whatnot, that doesn’t really matter, it’s the quality of that involvement.”

Injuries to Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerivu mean Reece Hodge starts in the number 13 jersey for the first time, combining with Kurtley Beale in the centre.

There was some good news for Cheika, who is seeking to end a 15-year Bledisloe losing run, with skipper Michael Hooper and wing Dane Haylett-Petty overcoming injury concerns.

Melbourne Rebels utility back Jack Maddocks is in line to make his international debut after being named on the bench.

RUGBY WALLABIES PRESS CONFERENCE Wallabies coach Michael Cheika. Source: AAP/PA Images

Meanwhile, All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock will play his milestone 100th Test on Saturday as New Zealand stick with their strongest possible in Sydney.

Whitelock becomes only the eighth All Black to achieve the milestone, and does so with the world champions under pressure to defend a remarkable run over their neighbours.

At stake in the opening Rugby Championship clash of the season is the first round of the Bledisloe Cup, a trophy contested annually between New Zealand and Australia.

Australia are buoyed by beating the All Blacks the last time they met, and although they lost the 2017 series 2-1, fly-half Bernard Foley showed their underlying boldness this week by saying they have set a target of keeping the All Blacks scoreless.

Such confidence dictated to the All Blacks that there was no room to experiment this weekend.

Coach Steve Hansen has not been swayed by calls to start developing multiple combinations ahead of next year’s World Cup, and particularly to use rising fly-half star Richie Mo’unga.

“The Bledisloe means a lot to this team and we have the opportunity to show just how much on Saturday night,” Hansen said, when naming his best-available side on Thursday.

Jack Goodhue has overtaken Anton Lienert-Brown at outside centre, otherwise the back line was predictable with Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane filling the back three.

With Sonny Bill Williams not available, Ryan Crotty is at inside centre with Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith in the halves and starting their 26th Test together.

Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick, who missed the series against France in June, return to the side with Read resuming the captaincy.

Liam Squire and Sam Cane are on the flanks with an all-Crusaders front row of Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody.

Hansen, who described Whitelock’s record as a “remarkable feat”, refused to dwell on New Zealand’s long run holding the Bledisloe Cup, saying the All Blacks mindset was to start each year as a new event.

We know that we have to earn the right to perform by preparing well and taking each moment that arises, and that mindset has been reflected in our preparation this week, which has been very good,” he said.

“As far as we’re concerned, neither team currently has possession of the Cup and if we want it, we’ve got to front up and take it.”

New Zealand’s overall record from 161 Tests against Australia is 111 wins, 43 losses and seven draws.

Australia (15-1): Israel Folau; Dane Haylett-Petty, Reece Hodge, Kurtley Beale, Marika Koroibete; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper (capt), Lukhan Tui; Adam Coleman, Izack Rodda; Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Tom Robertson.

Replacements: Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Pete Samu, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Jack Maddocks.

New Zealand (15-1): Ben Smith; Waisake Naholo, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Liam Squire; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Replacements: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.

© – AFP, 2018

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