Date: 16th October 2011
Time: 9.00pm NZST/9.00am BST
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Official: Craig Joubert (SA)
Playing down injury concerns this week; the All Blacks are gearing up for their first semi-final since 2003.
They have hit back at claims that captain Richie McCaw was virtually out of the tournament with his on-going foot problems, playing down reports that he was a doubt for the remainder of the tournament.
Israel Dagg has returned to the side, after missing the last game against Argentina, at fullback and Richard Kahui returns on the wing, a move that has seen Sonny Bill Williams relegated to the bench. Colin Slade, Dan Carter’s replacement, has been ruled out after suffering a groin injury, meaning that Aaron Cruden comes into the starting fifteen at fly-half.
Having had the defensive work out of a lifetime last Sunday against South Africa, this too, will be Australia’s first Rugby World Cup semi-final since 2003, where they played and beat New Zealand.
Robbie Deans has had the luxury of naming an unchanged side, but fullback Kurtley Beale will have to prove his fitness from a hamstring injury in Saturday’s captain’s run. Should Beale not be fit for the match then Adam Ashley-Cooper will move from outside centre to fullback with Anthony Faingaa starting at 13 and Rob Horne being promoted to the bench.
The “Curse of Eden Park” will loom large for the Wallabies, who have not won in Auckland since 1986.
What to expect:
This game will very much be a game of age versus experience. The All Blacks have the experience, whereas the Wallabies are fielding the age. Both sides could quite easily win this match; it will be a case of who wants it more on the day. Australia showed last week that they have the defensive game to go with their attacking side, the fans will want to see more of the latter but they wouldn’t mind if they grounded out an ugly victory over their Trans-Tasman rivals to get to their fourth Rugby World Cup Final. Expect a classic.
All Eyes On:
Aaron Cruden is the 3rd choice fly half for the All Blacks, the first two have groin injuries, and he will no doubt be a target for the more experienced Wallabies playing in opposition to him. He played well after coming on as a replacement in the game against Argentina, and will look to capitalise on this performance against the local enemy, Australia.
James O’Connor is only 21 but has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders with the place kicking duties that New Zealand know a lot about as it was his boot that denied the All Blacks victory over Australia in Hong Kong last year. Playing in Auckland will be significant for the utility back as he grew up in the city before moving back to Australia. He will need to be calm and composed on Sunday for the Wallabies to have a chance of making it to the final.
Head to Head: Richie McCaw vs. David Pocock
This is probably going to be the battle of the tournament. With debate raging as to who is the best openside flanker in the world, these two names are high up on that list. McCaw showed no signs of injury against Argentina, and will be looking to make a real stand against his younger counterpart. The rumour mill went into overdrive this week with Matt Todd training as opposition with the All Blacks this week. Whatever his purpose there, it shows that this is a battle being taken deadly seriously.
McCaw has 101 caps under his belt, so definitely has the advantage of experience on his side. He also has the height and weight on his side, standing 2 ½ inches taller than Pocock.
When Pocock’s at his best he is amazing to watch and last Sunday against South Africa just proved what a vital cog to the team he is, without him Australia probably would have lost. He’s recovered from his back injury that ruled him out of a couple of the pool games but he’s back at his best now. At just 23 he has more time on his side than McCaw and that youth and fitness could be a vital part as to who will win the duel of the 7s on Sunday.
The two have played against each other before, with it being a mostly even battles, but this is knock out rugby, not the Tri-Nations. Whoever has the better game out of these two should be the one on the winning side at the end of 80 minutes.
Australia won the last encounter, winning them the Tri-Nations title a few months ago. New Zealand 20 – 25 Australia, Brisbane, 27th August 2011.
Dry. Light northerly winds, 14°.
Christine: The Wallabies have the advantage of having won the last meeting, and the previous two World Cup semi-final encounters in 2003 and 1991. However the All Blacks have won the more games (114 out of 166 meetings) and are playing on home soil, and appear to be on something of a roll. However if anyone is going to stop them, it will be Australia. My gut instinct says that this is the year for New Zealand and I am going to go with it, but only just. All Blacks by a converted try (7)
Rachel: It’s going to be an epic match; I think we all know that. The two best sides in the world facing each other for a place in the World Cup Final. They’re so evenly matched it’s hard to separate them. The pressure is on New Zealand’s side but Australia will have been buoyed by the way that they beat South Africa in the quarter-final. They both want it, but I think New Zealand want it more, and they’ll do anything they can to get to that elusive final. This year’s could be Australia’s but I have a feeling that they’ll be the ones to beat in 2015. I reckon New Zealand to win by 6.