Rugby Union: Test of pride for All Blacks

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The Independent Online
THE WINGER Ben Tune has been passed fit to play for Australia in today's third and final Bledisloe Cup Test against New Zealand in Sydney.

But the centre Daniel Herbert has been ruled out and the prop Andrew Blades remain in doubt as the Wallabies struggle to piece together a side after their bruising defeat to South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg last weekend.

Although there is seemingly little at stake in today's match - the Wallabies have already secured the Bledisloe Cup after winning the first two matches of the series, played as part of the Tri-Nations tournament - both sides are treating the game as one of the most pivotal in years.

"This is a great challenge for us," the Australia coach, Rod Macqueen, said. "It's a chance for us as a team to show some character, to show that we can come back from adversity. We're building towards the World Cup and this game is a real test to see just where we are."

Tune was cleared to play despite suffering some discomfort from a knee injury, but he is likely to stand down from next month's South Pacific World Cup qualifiers.

Herbert was ruled out after tearing a hamstring against the Springboks and has been replaced by Jason Little, who was named man of the match when Australia beat the All Blacks in Christchurch on 1 August.

Blades has been given until the last minute to prove his fitness, with Glenn Panoho on standby to replace him.

The All Blacks are also struggling with injuries, forcing the coach, John Hart, to include two new caps - the prop, Kees Meeuws, and the No 8, Xavier Rush, for today's match.

Meeuws was called in for Olo Brown after the veteran tighthead prop injured his back against the Springboks, while Rush, the captain of the New Zealand Colts side, was drafted in to replace Isitola Maka, also a post-South Africa casualty.

Like Australia, the All Blacks are treating the game as a stepping stone to the World Cup, but of more pressing concern is the none too delicate matter of injured pride.

The All Blacks lost all four of their Tri-Nations encounters this season, two against Australia and two to South Africa. If they lose today they will have suffered their first series white-wash by the Wallabies since 1929 and extend their losing streak to five matches - their worst since losing six in 1949.

But if Hart was feeling the pressure he refused to let it show: "Saturday is about the future for us. It is an important part of our preparations for the World Cup."

AUSTRALIA (Bledisloe Cup Test v New Zealand, Sydney, today): M Burke; B Tune, J Little, T Horan, J Roff; S Larkham, G Gregan; T Kefu, D Wilson, M Cockbain; J Eales (capt), T Bowman, A Blades or G Panoho, P Kearns, D Crowley.

NEW ZEALAND: C Cullen; J Wilson, E Clarke, M Mayerhofler, J Lomu; A Mehrtens, J Marshall; X Rush, J Kronfeld, T Randell (capt), R Brooke, R Willis, K Meeuws, A Oliver, C Hoeft.