Michael Cheika’s Wallabies unchanged for All Blacks decider
Australia bidding to lift Bledisloe Cup for first time since 2002 as Hansen rings changes
James O’Connor retains the number 13 jersey for the Wallabies against the All Blacks. Photograph: James Worsfold/Getty
Australia coach Michael Cheika has kept faith with the team that produced a record victory over the All Blacks last weekend and made only one injury-enforced change for Saturday’s second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park.
The 47-26 victory over the All Blacks last Saturday in Perth gives the Wallabies a chance to lift the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002.
Adam Coleman moves up from the bench to replace the injured Rory Arnold in the second row with Rob Simmons coming into the matchday 23 as lock cover.
Arnold suffered a hand injury in last week’s and was replaced by Coleman in the 55th minute, although the Wallabies did not lose any of the aggression that laid the foundation for the victory.
“I think it was pretty straighforward this time, we wanted to give those guys another opportunity,” Cheika told reporters in Melbourne.
“With Rory’s exclusion, I thought Adam did a good job coming on to finish the game.”
In other changes to the bench, uncapped loose forward Liam Wright looks set for his Test debut while 35-year-old outside back Adam Ashley-Cooper gets a chance to press for a trip to a fourth World Cup. Luke Jones and Tom Banks missed out.
“Liam Wright ... has been competing so hard at training, I just thought it was a good opportunity for him to get in the game,” Cheika added.
“Adam Ashley-Cooper hasn’t had (an opportunity) yet and he’s got good experience and has good communication. It’s going to be noisy and the heat is going to be up and he’s a cool cucumber out there. He’s really hungry.”
The Wallabies only need to draw on Saturday to regain the Bledisloe Cup but have not beaten New Zealand at Eden Park since 1986.
Injured loose forward David Pocock was left out of the 23-man squad despite training with the Wallabies in Melbourne this week.
The 31-year-old has not played since March due to a calf injury but Cheika said he would feature in Australia’s final warm-up match in Sydney on September 7th.
“It was so close,” Cheika added “I think we’ll definitely see him out on the field against Samoa.”
The Wallabies back row has looked more balanced without Pocock with number eight Isi Naisarani and blindside flanker Lukhan Salakaia-Loto complementing captain and openside flanker Michael Hooper.
The Wallabies used Naisarani and Salakaia-Loto to punch over the advantage line last week in Perth and the latter’s experience at lock helped them dominate the lineout.
Cheika also retained James O’Connor at centre after the 29-year-old impressed with his distribution and deceptive running in his first appearance at Test level in the number 13 jersey.
The form of scrumhalf Nic White, who was man-of-the-match last week, has again kept veteran Will Genia on the bench.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen meanwhile has rung the changes for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash, with the experienced trio of Ben Smith, Owen Franks and Rieko Ioane all dropped from the side.
Nepo Laulala comes in for Franks at tighthead prop while wingers Smith and Ioane have been replaced by George Bridge, making his first start in his fourth test, and Sevu Reece, who has just one previous Test cap.
With Hansen in the process of finalising his squad for the Rugby World Cup, Franks (108 Tests), Smith (79) and Ioane (26) have looked out-of-sorts in recent weeks and have all dropped out of the matchday 23.
Hansen was also forced to make two other changes with lock Scott Barrett suspended following a red card in Perth, while centre Jack Goodhue picked up a minor hamstring strain.
Sonny Bill Williams has returned at inside centre after spending the last two weeks regaining match fitness in New Zealand’s provincial competition and will partner Anton Lienert-Brown in the midfield.
Lienert-Brown, 24, has moved from inside centre to the number 13 jersey in place of Goodhue.
Patrick Tuipulotu replaces Barrett, who has been suspended for three weeks, and will partner Sam Whitelock in the second row.
He also signalled his intention to persist with the dual playmaker tactic at next month’s World Cup with Richie Mo’unga again selected at flyhalf and Beauden Barrett at fullback.
The pair have failed to gel in the All Blacks’ two previous matches but showed hints of their attacking threat at times last week.
Australia: Kurtley Beale; Marika Koroibete, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge; Christian Lealiifano, Nic White; Scott Sio, Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa, Izack Rodda, Adam Coleman, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Michael Hooper (captain), Isi Naisarani. Replacements: Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Rob Simmons, Liam Wright, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper.
New Zealand: Beauden Barrett; Sevu Reece, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Patrick Tuipulotu, Sam Whitelock, Ardie Savea, Sam Cane, Kieran Read (captain). Replacements: Codie Taylor, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Angus Ta’avao, Jackson Hemopo, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett.