Australia will give Kurtley Beale “until the final moment” to overcome a hamstring injury and take his place in an unchanged team in the Rugby World Cup semifinal against New Zealand in two days.
Beale, who has twice left the field with the same hamstring strain during the tournament, was bracketed today with Adam Ashley-Cooper at full-back in the lineup. Ashley-Cooper is also bracketed at outside center with Anthony Fainga’a, who will slot into midfield should Beale be ruled out, team management said.
“We will leave it as long as we can before making a decision,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said in a statement. “It will be tough on Kurtley if he has to miss this one, but we will take no chances.”
The All Blacks earlier made three changes to the team that started the 33-10 quarterfinal win over Argentina, bringing Aaron Cruden, Richard Kahui and Israel Dagg into the backline.
If Beale, who was voted as Australian rugby’s best player by his fellow professionals last month, is passed fit, then the Wallabies’ will retain the starting lineup from their 11-9 victory over defending champion South Africa in the last eight.
Should Fainga’a be promoted to the starting team, his place on the replacements’ bench will be taken by Rob Horne, who has recovered from a facial fracture sustained in the Sept. 23 pool match against the U.S.
“It’s great to have Rob back,” Deans added. “He was fully tested this week in contact during training and has come back fine.”
Eden Park Drought
Australia, seeking an unprecedented third world title, won both its previous World Cup meetings with New Zealand, though hasn’t had a victory at Eden Park since 1986. The top-ranked All Blacks are on a 25-game winning streak at the stadium.
The winner will meet Wales or France, who play tomorrow, in the Oct. 23 final. France today made two changes to its bench with Fulgence Ouedraogo replacing Louis Picamoles and Jean Marc Doussain coming in for David Marty.
Tournament host New Zealand, which won its only World Cup in 1987, picked Cruden at fly-half and Dagg at full-back to replace the injured Colin Slade and Mils Muliaina, respectively.
Kahui’s return to the wing from injury drops Sonny Bill Williams to the bench, where Andy Ellis and Stephen Donald provide cover at scrum-half and fly-half.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry and his selectors retained the same forward pack that started against Argentina. Victor Vito is the loose forward backup as captain Richie McCaw continues to play with a foot injury, while prop Ben Franks returns to the bench after withdrawing from the win over the Pumas because of stomach problems.
Cruden, who wasn’t selected in the original 30-man squad, has gone from being New Zealand’s third-choice fly-half to starter in the space of two weeks following groin injuries to Dan Carter and Slade. Henry said the 22-year-old was coping with the transition.
“Last week he was a sub, so it’s a big change for him but he’s a bright rugby player, he knows the game well,” Henry said in a news conference at the team’s Auckland hotel. “It’s the biggest game he’s played in, it’s the biggest game a lot of them have played in, quite frankly, so I’m sure it’s challenging but he seems to be handling it well.”
NEW ZEALAND: 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Keven Mealamu, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Samuel Whitelock, 5. Brad Thorn, 6. Jerome Kaino, 7. Richie McCaw (captain), 8. Kieran Read, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Richard Kahui, 12. Ma’a Nonu, 13. Conrad Smith, 14. Cory Jane, 15. Israel Dagg.
Replacements: 16. Andrew Hore, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Ali Williams, 19. Victor Vito, 20. Andy Ellis, 21. Stephen Donald, 22. Sonny Bill Williams.
AUSTRALIA: 15. Kurtley Beale/Adam Ashley-Cooper, 14. James O’Connor, 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper/Anthony Fainga’a, 12. Pat McCabe, 11. Digby Ioane, 10. Quade Cooper, 9. Will Genia, 8. Radike Samo, 7. David Pocock, 6. Rocky Elsom, 5. James Horwill (captain) 4. Dan Vickerman, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Sekope Kepu.
Replacements: 16. Tatafu Polota Nau, 17. James Slipper, 18. Rob Simmons, 19. Ben McCalman, 20. Luke Burgess, 21. Berrick Barnes, 22. Anthony Fainga’a/Rob Horne.