All Blacks look to lay down World Cup marker with fourth title in a row

New Zealand expected to field strongest side against Australia for Sydney showdown

Schalk Burger  is tackled by  Richie McCaw during New Zealand’s match against South Africa  in Johannesburg on July 25. Photograph: Marco Longa/AFP/Getty Images

Schalk Burger is tackled by Richie McCaw during New Zealand’s match against South Africa in Johannesburg on July 25. Photograph: Marco Longa/AFP/Getty Images

 

The Rugby Championship decider against Australia this weekend will be a litmus test of how New Zealand’s preparations for their World Cup defence are going, assistant coach Ian Foster yesterday.

After rotating their squad for their first three Tests of the year against Samoa, Argentina and South Africa, the All Blacks are expected to field their strongest available side for Saturday’s match at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium.

“It has come at a great time, the way it’s worked out,” Foster said ahead of the team’s flight over the Tasman Sea.

Bit of spice

“Not only is it a Bledisloe Cup game, it’s also the decider for the Rugby Championship – it has added a bit of spice to the game, hasn’t it? If we needed it.

“Certainly after the last three Tests of introducing a number of new people, I think it’s nice to put a stake in the ground in this one and see exactly where we are at.”

Victory in Sydney would not only mean a fourth straight Rugby Championship title for the world champions but also ensure the Bledisloe Cup remains in New Zealand for a 14th year.

“Whilst the World Cup is the pinnacle and the overall strategy is geared towards that, winning the Bledisloe is vital for us,” Foster said.

“Sometimes having very powerful short-term goals are really good for this team. We’re very desperate to get the job done in Sydney.”

Australia go into the encounter with wins over Argentina and South Africa but have not beaten the All Blacks since they won the 2011 Tri-Nations, which like this Rugby Championship was truncated to help with World Cup preparations.

Improvement

Foster said the Wallabies would also want to put a marker down against the best team in the world as they look to build on their improvement under new coach Michael Cheika.

“We know how hard it is to win over there,” he said. “The Aussies cherish Sydney, they’ve shown a bit of improvement, they’re chasing consistency and this will put a big marker in the ground for them.

“This is what Test rugby is all about. They want it, we want it, and on Saturday night we’ll go hammer and tongs to see who is best prepared.”

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