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The Wallabies can replenish their trophy cabinet if they can upset the odds against New Zealand and claim their first Tri-Nations series in seven years on Saturday.
Australia retained the Mandela Plate against the world champion Springboks, but the sweetest prize for New Zealander Robbie Deans will be seizing the Tri-Nations trophy off the All Blacks in his ninth Test as Wallaby coach.
Deans had a dream start as the Wallabies’ first foreign coach with five opening wins, including a 34-19 spanking of the All Blacks in Sydney on July 26.
But the magic wore off as New Zealand hit back 39-10 a week later in Auckland, and Australia then suffered a record 53-8 mauling by the Boks in Johannesburg a fortnight ago.
Yet heading into the final game of the Tri-Nations, the Wallabies can still come away with the big prize if they can down the top-ranked New Zealanders at Brisbane’s Lang Park.
New Zealand have held the Tri-Nations crown, symbol of southern hemisphere rugby supremacy, since 2005 and are favourites to extend their reign into a fifth year this weekend, but All Blacks coach Graham Henry is wary of an ambush.
“I don’t think it [the big loss in Johannesburg] had done us any favours at all,” Henry said on Thursday.
“They will be hugely disappointed with their performance and the result, which will give them more edge and more attitude. We don’t really need that, so that’s a pity that happened.”
Henry knows from experience not to underestimate the Wallabies at home.
The Australians have had the better of the All Blacks six times in their last nine home encounters, although the Kiwis have won both their two Lang Park Tests, in 2006 and 1996.
“This was always going to be a big game, it was always going to be a decider and they have got the advantage, probably, of coming off a big loss which they are obviously disappointed about,” Henry said.
Henry readily conceded that Deans had out-coached him in their defeat in Sydney in July and Deans sees Saturday’s match as a perfect opportunity for redemption after their Johannesburg humiliation.
Deans has made five team changes and is promising a much-improved effort from his chastened Australians at a sell-out Lang Park.
“We’ve got a fantastic opportunity this weekend. We will be better out of necessity and I’m very excited about this week,” Deans said.
“They weren’t proud of their last outing, so the priority for us is to be proud of what we leave behind this Saturday.
“We’ve seen some great encounters in the Tri-Nations and you’re going to see an even better one on the weekend.”
The Wallabies have been strengthened by the inclusion of outside centre Ryan Cross, flanker George Smith, lock Nathan Sharpe, tighthead prop Al Baxter and hooker Stephen Moore.
Australia must also beat New Zealand to keep alive their chances of reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup, symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy, with the series locked at one match each.
The fourth match will be played in Hong Kong on November 1.
Australia must win the series outright to reclaim the Bledisloe Cup, which they have not held since a New Zealand side that had Deans as its assistant coach prevailed two-nil in the 2003 series.
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper; Peter Hynes, Ryan Cross, Stirling Mortlock (captain), Lote Tuqiri; Matt Giteau, Sam Cordingley; Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Rocky Elsom; Nathan Sharpe, James Horwill; Al Baxter, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Adam Freier, Matt Dunning, Hugh McMeniman, Phil Waugh,
Richard Brown, Brett Sheehan, Drew Mitchell.
New Zealand: Mils Muliaina; Richard Kahui, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Sitiveni Sivivatu; Dan Carter, Jimmy Cowan; Rodney So’oialo, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino; Ali Williams, Brad Thorn; Greg Somerville, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, John Afoa/Neemia Tialata, Anthony Boric,
Adam Thomson, Piri Weepu, Stephen Donald, Isaia Toeava.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)—Sapa-AFP
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