New Zealand are bracing themselves for an attacking onslaught from Australia in the final Bledisloe Cup showdown of the year in Tokyo today despite the Wallabies losing one of their key playmakers.
Inside centre and new vice-captain Berrick Barnes was ruled out of the match at the National Stadium after rolling an ankle in training. While x-rays revealed no break the injury will also force the 23-year-old out of the Wallabies' Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland. Barnes' absence has forced Robbie Deans into a reshuffle of his back line.
Adam Ashley-Cooper will now slot in at 12 to partner Ryan Cross in the midfield which hands James O'Connor, who produced an unconvincing performance in Wellington, a recall at full-back. The loss of Barnes means fly-half Matt Giteau will have to shoulder the full burden of directing a team who are desperate to stop the rot against the All Blacks. Since Deans took over last year they have managed just one win against New Zealand – his first game in charge against the trans-Tasman foe – and have lost the past six, including the 33-6 capitulation in the New Zealand capital last month.
Wing Digby Ioane however, was confident Australia could overcome the disruption of losing Barnes. "It is a big loss because he is the go-to man, along with Matt Giteau. They can mix it up and change between five-eighth and 12," he said. "But Coops is dangerous on the ball. He's more of a go-forward man. He can break the line and stuff whereas Barnesy's more of a ball player, a smart player."
New Zealand lock Tom Donnelly, who will earn his second Test cap tomorrow, is certainly expecting to face a fired-up Australian outfit. "They'll come in and throw everything they've got at it. We've just got to absorb it and give back more than what they give to us."
New Zealand will go into the Test as favourites given their run of successive wins and the fact the Wallabies have not scored a try against them in 236 minutes of rugby since Barnes crossed the whitewash in the fourth minute of the Tri-Nations opener at Eden Park.
The Australians never looked like scoring a try in Wellington where they were out-muscled and out-played by an All Blacks side desperate to bounce back from their third straight loss to South Africa. Deans has turned to new captain Rocky Elsom, David Pocock and Wycliff Palu to remedy the breakdown issues, dropping veteran George Smith to the bench, and has brought back Ioane, Peter Hynes and Cross, who wears the 13 jersey in the absence of the injured Stirling Mortlock (calf), to add some punch to the back line.Reuse content