PREVIEW: Bledisloe Cup first Test

The Rugby Championship
Matt Lewis Profile
by Matt Lewis

The Wallabies and All Blacks are set for their first match since last year’s Rugby World Cup final, but who will come out on top?

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has made numerous changes to his side that lost 3-0 to England  in June, with a handful of experienced heads recalled into the starting XV.

Kane Douglas returns to the Wallabies set up having recovered from the ACL injury he suffered in the Rugby World Cup final, while David Pocock is back in gold after fracturing his eye socket in the opening match against England in June.

Douglas will return for the Wallabies at lock. Photo: Getty Images

Will Genia, Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper have slotted straight back into the starting side on their return to Australia as their quest for an elusive Bledisloe Cup series win still haunts them.

In the biggest shake up to the team, Scott Fardy has been demoted to the bench for Western Force number eight Ben McCalman, who will start at blindside flanker.

The All Blacks have lost a host of key players since the last time these two sides met, with Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Ma’a Nonu moving on, but the likes of Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett have reminded all of the depth the Kiwis enjoy in every spot.

The All Blacks have lost a host of players since last year's World Cup final. Photo: Getty Images

Beauden Barrett has been given the nod to start at flyhalf ahead of Aaron Cruden while one of the most damaging wingers when at the top of his game in Julian Savea will start on the bench.

In a late reshuffle  Codie Taylor will start in the number two jersey, with Hurricanes captain Dane Coles to the bench, after Nathan Harris ruptured his ACL.

Match stats

The Wallabies haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002.

The All Blacks haven’t won at ANZ Stadium since 2013.

The Wallabies are currently on a four Test losing streak and another loss would hand them their worst run since 2005.

The All Blacks have lost just one of their last 13 matches against Australia and have won their past 11 Tests.

Key Match ups

Israel Folau vs Israel Dagg

The battle of the ‘Izzies’ looms as a vital one in the opening Bledisloe. Folau is the Wallabies’ most threatening attacking weapon and will be need to be watched closely by the All Blacks. Folau was hampered by an ankle injury the last time these two sides met limiting his impact in the World Cup final and the All Blacks have managed to curtail his influence with their swarming defence under the high ball.

Folau returns to fulback after playing the majority of the season at centre for the Waratahs. Photo: ARU Media/Stu Walmsley

Dagg hasn’t played the Wallabies in almost two years but returned to the number 15 jersey during the June series against Wales. Dagg has a damaging boot and is brilliant under the high ball.

Will Genia vs Aaron Smith

Genia hasn’t played since January 4 after undergoing knee surgery but limited game time this year could be a blessing in disguise for the Australian halfback. The halves were a concern for Australia in June and Genia’s pass should hopefully steady the Wallabies at the base.

Smith is rated the best halfback in the world and has been a key player for the All Blacks over the last three years. His crisp passing and solid kicking game makes him a threat across the ground and something the Wallabies will need to be wary of.

Smith is rated the best halfback in the world. Photo: Getty Images

Where will the game be won?

The lineout could be the deciding factor on Saturday night. Michael Cheika’s decision to drop Scott Fardy to the bench could hurt the Wallabies lineout with Ben McCalman who is six centimetres shorter, leaving them with just two recognized jumpers. The All Blacks have also lost their starting hooker Nathan Harris just a day out from the Bledisloe opener with an ACL injury which could led to a few shakeups.


Israel Folau; Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Giteau, Dane Haylett-Petty; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; David Pocock, Michael Hooper, Ben McCalman; Rob Simmons, Kane Douglas; Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (c), Scott Sio

Reserves: Tatafu Polota-Nau, James Slipper, Allan Ala’alatoa, Dean Mumm, Scott Fardy, Nick Phipps, Matt Toomua, Rob Horne

All Blacks

Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ryan Crotty, Waisake Naholo; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett

Reserves: Dane Coles, Kane Hames, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Aaron Cruden, Julian Savea