The teams are in for the decisive Bledisloe III fixture at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night.
The fixture will both open The Rugby Championship which includes Argentina, and potentially decide the Bledisloe Cup should the All Blacks claim the victory.
Wallabies coach Dave Rennie has named four debutants in his matchday squad, while Ian Foster has made three changes to the All Blacks side. Notably, James O’Connor has been ruled out of the test with a knee injury, which has opened the door for Noah Lolesio to make his debut.
Ardie Savea was also unavailable for selection after deciding to stay in New Zealand after his second child was born. Blues Number Eight Hoskins Sotutu has been named for his test debut in his place.
With so much on the line in Bledisloe III, here are the three key matchups which will decide the test.
Noah Lolesio vs Richie Mo’unga
Dave Rennie has made a few changes to the Wallabies side that took the field in Bledisloe II, but arguably his biggest bombshell came at flyhalf. To the surprise of many, James O’Connor was ruled out of the test with an injury.
At just 20-years-old, and after only having played three Super Rugby AU matches, Noah Lolesio has been named to replace O’Connor in the starting side, and to make his test debut. He was selected in the matchday side for the opening test against the All Blacks but was an unused substitute.
Lolesio announced himself as one of the brightest up-and-coming talents in Australian rugby with a Player of the Match performance in the Super Rugby AU Grand Final win – it was his first game back in over two months.
But his biggest challenge awaits him on Saturday, when he takes control of the playmaking reigns and looks to keep the Wallabies’ chances of reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup alive with a win.
To do that, he’ll have to outplay the talented Richie Mo’unga, who is still trying to find his feet in the test rugby arena. It was an improved performance from the Crusaders pivot in Auckland last weekend, who seemed to click with Beauden Barrett a bit more but was still far from his best.
If either player can play to their potential on the weekend, quiet their opposite and control the match, then their sides will go a long way to winning this decisive test on Australian soil.
Lolesio will have his Brumbies teammate in Irae Simone lining up alongside him at inside centre, after he was also named to make his debut. They’re coming up against the combination of Mo’unga and Goodhue however, a partnership which has been trailed and tested at both Super and test level.
It should be too much to handle.
Advantage All Blacks.
Harry Wilson v Hoskins Sotutu
Wilson wasn’t just one of the best rookies throughout the 2020 Super Rugby season, he was one of the best players period. The 20-year-old has had the Australian rugby community singing his praises over the last few months, as he’s made a near-seamless transition from a stellar campaign with the Reds into the test arena.
In just two tests, Wilson has become a cornerstone of the Wallabies forward pack, having been named to start his second-straight match at Number Eight. Starting at Blindside Flanker in the first test, he stood out for his work rate and passion, while his defence did the talking in Bledisloe II.
Blues Number Eight Hoskins Sotutu is set to liven up against the Australian enforcer on Saturday, having been named to start. Sotutu has been a revelation of his own on the other side of the Tasman.
Last month, Wilson said that Sotutu was “one of the best Number Eight’s in the world.” With everything to play for this weekend, it’s time for the up-and-comers to let their dominance on the field do the talking.
Even though Sotutu has shown moments of brilliance, especially during the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, the Wallabies have the edge here. Wilson’s work rate and reliability sees him get the nod over “one of the best.”
Dane Haylett-Petty v Beauden Barrett
One of the unluckiest omissions to come out of the Bledisloe III team announcements is Tom Banks, who had proven himself to be a solid option at the back for the Wallabies.
Instead he’s been replaced by Melbourne Rebels captain Dane Haylett-Petty, who will make his return to the rugby field after being unavailable for the first two tests of the year through injury.
The 31-year-old is an invaluable addition for Dave Rennie’s side simply due to the experience that he can bring to a youthful backline, after already having faced the Haka seven times. He’ll run out alongside four players in the backs who’ve played four test matches or less.
Coming up against Haylett-Petty is Beauden Barrett, who was electrifying in his return to test rugby in Bledisloe II. In fact, it was arguably one of it not the best game he’s played in a black jersey with the 15 on his back.
If the two-time World Rugby Player of the Year can perform anywhere near how he did in Auckland, then the All Blacks won’t lose.
It’s as simple as that.
Barrett’s playmaking and ability to both spot a gap and make the most of it, gives him the edge over any fullback in the world.
While both men carry plenty of responsibility with them in Saturday’s test, it’s the All Blacks who have the edge at fullback.
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