Australia made four starting changes for this weekend’s final Bledisloe Cup rugby Test against New Zealand in Brisbane, where the Wallabies will try to prevent the All Blacks from tying their record winning run.
Adam Ashley-Cooper replaces injured winger Digby Ioane, while Wycliff Palu takes over at No. 8 from the rested Radike Samo. Scott Higginbotham was picked at blindside flanker and Benn Robinson takes over at prop from James Slipper in the other changes from the 25-19 win in Argentina on Oct. 6.
Australia beat New Zealand 25-20 when they met in Brisbane 14 months ago in the deciding game of the final Tri-Nations tournament. The All Blacks haven’t lost since, winning the 2011 Rugby World Cup and this year’s inaugural Rugby Championship, during which they twice beat the Wallabies to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 10th straight series.
“The All Blacks are the benchmark and proved it again through the Rugby Championship,” said Wallabies coach Robbie Deans. “They are a step up from where we’ve been, but the guys have shown a lot of resilience over the last two months and they’re excited about the opportunity ahead of them.”
New Zealand takes a 16-Test winning streak into the match at Suncorp Stadium, one short of the top-tier record of 17 consecutive victories it shares with South Africa. Lithuania holds the outright record of 18 wins in a row, according to the International Rugby Board.
Hooker Saia Fainga’a, who was earlier named among the replacements, joined the list of injured Wallabies today when he broke his hand in training, the team said. James Hanson will take his bench spot.
Australia is missing first-choice players including lock and regular captain James Horwill, scrum-half Will Genia, openside flanker David Pocock, hooker Stephen Moore and back James O’Connor.
Pocock, who is recovering from knee surgery after damaging cartilage in the Aug. 18 match against New Zealand, told reporters today that he doesn’t know if he’ll be fit enough to play on Australia’s four-match tour of Europe, which opens Nov. 10 against France in Paris.
“The very best case scenario would be playing towards the end of the spring tour, but that’s maybe not that realistic,” Pocock said today in Canberra.
AUSTRALIA: Mike Harris, Nick Cummins, Ben Tapuai, Pat McCabe, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Nick Phipps, Wycliff Palu, Michael Hooper, Scott Higginbotham, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: James Hanson, James Slipper, Kane Douglas, Dave Dennis, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell.