All Blacks coach Graham Henry has joined the growing band of international observers casting suspicious expressions at Australia’s 53 point thrashing by the Springboks in Johannesburg last month.
Henry today announced an unchanged New Zealand side for the final Tri-Nations match of the season in Brisbane this Saturday – the game that will determine this year’s champions. And the coach dismissed any lessons to be learned from the South Africans’ freak 8 tries to 1 victory over the Wallabies.
“Australia's last result was out-of-character and we expect a real battle” he said. “It's a very competitive Tri-Nations series this year. Every match has been more important than the one before it and this Test decides the Championship. So we're trying to make sure we get our preparation exactly right.”
Henry has gone back to the side which beat South Africa in Cape Town on 16 August. To alleviate the effects of the month long break for them, New Zealand played Manu Samoa last week, hammering them by 101 points to 14. But Henry has simply reverted to the Cape Town side whose progress has been quietly impressive during this difficult season for the New Zealand boss.
By contrast, Australian coach Robbie Deans has made five changes from the side which looked disinterested in Johannesburg. Key players who were inexplicably rested for that match like hooker Stephen Moore, flanker George Smith, tight head prop Al Baxter and centre Ryan Cross are all restored to the team, together with veteran lock Nathan Sharpe who plays in place of the injured Daniel Vickerman.
Deans said “Over time you learn to presume nothing in competitive sport. All that counts is what individuals (and teams) bring on the day," wrote Deans.
"If the attitude is not right, and the individual is not prepared to do all that is required both on and off the field to perform to the best of their ability, then the chances of success are slim. It might sound simple but that, in a nutshell, was the core reason why the Wallabies failed in Johannesburg.
"We just weren't desperate enough in Johannesburg whereas the South Africans were. But can we turn our fortunes around? Absolutely. This year's tournament has been punctuated by teams rebounding from defeat in one game, to success in the next.”
It’s a safe bet that so laissez-faire an attitude won’t be anywhere in sight among the Australians in front of a 52,000 sell-out at SunCorp stadium, Brisbane, on Saturday night.
Australia: A. Ashley-Cooper; P. Hynes, R. Cross, S. Mortlock (Capt.), L. Tuqiri; M. Giteau, S. Cordingley; B. Robinson, S. Moore, A. Baxter, J. Horwill, N. Sharpe, R. Elsom, G. Smith, W. Palu.
New Zealand: M. Muliaina; R. Kahui, C. Smith, M. Nonu, S. Sivivatu; D. Carter, J. Cowan; A. Woodcock, A. Hore, G. Somerville, B. Thorn, A. Williams, J. Kaino, R. McCaw (Capt.), R. So’oialo.