Gregan's men face Eden Park whitewash

It would be as well for Aussie rugby supporters not to expect much from today's final Tri-Nations match of 2005, the meeting of New Zealand and Australia in Auckland. The All Blacks, having squeezed out South Africa last week, will reclaim the trophy if they beat the Wallabies at Eden Park.

Great furrows have lined Australian brows this week. The Wallabies have lost their last four Test matches, a dire run unknown for nearly a quarter of a century. They have lost their first three choices at fly-half, Stephen Larkham, Elton Flatley and Matt Giteau, to injury and will play their former rugby league full-back Matt Rogers in the No 10 jersey today. Rogers has played there before, but only as a schoolboy.

The Wallabies are in the midst of an injury crisis that has exposed the empty cupboards of Australian rugby. Their front row might be wily but it is weak, the second row is without its best operator, Daniel Vickerman, and the back-row combination has been changed yet again, a clear sign of selectorial uncertainty.

Three flankers - Rocky Elsom, Phil Waugh and George Smith - play in the absence through injury of the regular No 8 David Lyons. Chris Latham, Stirling Mortlock, Wendell Sailor and Jeremy Paul are also missing.

The All Blacks have had injury concerns of their own this week, such was the intensity of the Dunedin encounter with the Springboks. The scrum-half Piri Weepu, who made significant progress as a Test player that evening, has shaken off a thigh strain to take his place, but doubt still remains over Leon MacDonald at fly-half.

The No 10 has a hip injury and a decision will not be made on his fitness until shortly before kick-off. But the difference in the back-up quality is marked. Luke McAlister, who helped to overwhelm the British and Irish Lions in the final Test, would step in if MacDonald did not make it.

Choosing the time and location to make rugby history is generally not the preserve of players. Thus, George Gregan will equal the world record of the England prop Jason Leonard with his 114th cap for the Wallabies, but bittersweet might be the word for such an experience, because Gregan's side is staring down the gun barrel.

Gregan's outstanding achievement has come against a cacophony of cries for his sacking by the Australian media, that traditionally mild-mannered, reticent body of men for whom extenuating circumstances are never allowed to delay the desires of a hanging party.

It is undeniable that Gregan is not the force he once was. But no scrum-half excels behind a beaten pack. The Australian front row seems to have lost its knack of milking penalties from stronger opponents, and their No 9 has been duly exposed.

New Zealand's status as the No 1 side in world rugby was confirmed by their victory over South Africa last weekend. The cynics would say that puts them in familiar surroundings, as they have consistently peaked between World Cups without being able to win one since 1987. But there is a growing substance to Graham Henry's squad, not least in their tight-forward play, that foretells of major difficulties for the other major nations in the build-up to the next World Cup in France in 2007.

Not that the All Blacks are duped by forecasts of a sporting slaughter beneath the Eden Park floodlights.

"Australia will play out of their skins in this match, we expect nothing less from them," Henry said. "They are a very proud sporting nation and will give everything they have, whatever the circumstances. That is their way."

It might not be the rout some predict. But it is only three weeks since the All Blacks beat Australia 30-13 in Sydney and for this battered, patched-up Wallaby side to stop the All Blacks in their own back yard will require something close to supernatural force.

The beleaguered Wallaby coach Eddie Jones says his team has little to lose. Which is true if you discount the prospect of a first Tri-Nations whitewash, a fifth successive Test loss and another defeat at the hands of their mortal enemy.

A celebratory party for Gregan? It looks doubtful.

New Zealand: M Muliaina; D Howlett, T Umaga (capt), A Mauger, J Rokocoko; L MacDonald, P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, C Hayman, C Jack, A Williams, S Lauaki, R McCaw, R So'oialo. Replacements: D Whitcombe, G Somerville, J Ryan, M Holah, K Senio, L McAlister, C Smith.

Australia: D Mitchell; M Gerrard, C Rathbone, M Turinui, L Tuqiri; M Rogers, G Gregan (capt); B Young, B Cannon, A Baxter, M Chisholm, N Sharpe, R Elsom, P Waugh, G Smith. Replacements: A Freier, M Dunning, A Kanaar, J Roe, C Whitaker, L MacKay, L Johansson.

Referee: C White (England).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London