Sydney - The Wallabies are to pit David
Pocock and Michael Hooper against All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw as the Rugby
Championship comes down to an all-or-nothing showdown in Sydney on Saturday.
The selection of Pocock and Hooper in
tandem underscores the desire of Australian coach Michael Cheika to have the
battle at the breakdown decide the outcome.
It will be the first time the dynamic
Australian loose forwards have started together with Cheika putting their
combined scavenging skills up against the legendary McCaw.
The Wallabies and All Blacks go into their
final-round clash as the only unbeaten sides in the southern hemisphere
championship that also features South Africa and Argentina.
The last time Australia beat New Zealand
was in 2011, in what was then the Tri-Nations tournament decider, with New
Zealand going on to win the World Cup two months later.
The World Cup again looms over this clash
with both sides completing preparations before the global tournament starts in
England in mid-September.
Also at stake is the Bledisloe Cup,
contested annually between the trans-Tasman rivals with the All Blacks winning
or retaining the trophy every year since it was last held by Australia in 2002.
Tensions will be high in Sydney, with All
Blacks coach Steve Hansen saying he expects a "brutal contest" and
long-serving New Zealand centre Conrad Smith rating Australia as the team his
side "love to hate".
Cheika's decision to include Hooper at
seven with Pocock at No 8, as well as promoting Dean Mumm to start at lock
ahead of Will Skelton puts the focus firmly on the breakdown, as Hansen
"This means we will need to bring
physicality, intensity and accuracy to the occasion," he said with Jerome
Kaino recalled to join McCaw and Kieran Read as the loose trio and hard-nosed
Luke Romano starting at lock with Brodie Retallick.
Australian scrumhalf Nick Phipps said
Hansen was right to expect more aggression from the Wallabies.
"That's something we want as part of
our identity... not taking a backward step, that's leading in the physicality
stakes. We want to try and put in those efforts that stops the momentum of
teams," he said.
With Hooper and Pocock on the park at the
same time, the All Blacks will be forced into more urgency with their ball protection
and speed of delivery if they are to make the most of their outside backs.
Nehe Milner-Skudder, one of the stars of
Super rugby this year, makes his Test debut on the right wing, forming a potent
back-three partnership with Julian Savea and Ben Smith.
They are among five changes to the New
Zealand backline which also sees Dan Carter return to steer the ship at
fly-half with Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre confronting Matt Giteau who
replaces Matt Toomua in the Wallabies line-up.
Drew Mitchell, Adam Ashley-Cooper and
Israel Folau form the Australian back three with Kurtley Beale, Toomua and Nic
White on the bench and no room in the line-up for Quade Cooper.
Cheika may have home-ground advantage but
he is in no doubt the favourites are the All Blacks who have only lost two
Tests - to South Africa and England - of 45 played since winning the last World
"I think the expectation is probably
not for us to win, so that's what an underdog is," Cheika said.
"I don't think we need it, but it is
what it is and we have to prove that wrong."
In the last clash between the All Blacks
and Wallabies, in Brisbane last October, New Zealand won 29-28 with a converted
try in injury time.
15 Israel Folau, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13
Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick
Phipps, 8 David Pocock, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 James Horwill, 4 Dean
Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Stephen Moore, (captain), 1 Scott Sio
Substitutes: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 James
Slipper, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Ben McCalman, 21 Nic White, 22
Matt Toomua, 23 Kurtley Beale
Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill
Williams, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran
Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Brodie
Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
16 Codie Taylor, 17 Ben Franks , 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20
Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa