New Zealand vs. Australia: Key Battles to Watch
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New Zealand will expect to keep alive their perfect record in the Rugby Championship when they host Australia in Wellington in the second round of the 2013 tournament on Saturday.
The All Blacks won all six of their games in the first edition of the Rugby Championship last year and opened their 2013 account with a comfortable 47-29 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney last week.
Steve Hansen's side have won four from four this season and are firm favorites to record another victory ahead of the visits of Argentina and South Africa to New Zealand.
The Wallabies, meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back after two heavy defeats—they also went down 41-16 to the British & Irish Lions—and put themselves properly in contention for a shot at the Rugby Championship title.
Australia keep faith with all five debutants last week as they look to continue their rebuilding process. But a very clear message has been sent out by Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie that they must produce this time round, or else.
These two rivals know each other very well, and although the All Blacks go into the match with a far-superior recent record, Australia will be confident of upsetting the odds if they can gain an edge in the following battles:
Tom Taylor vs. Matt Toomua
Following injuries to Dan Carter, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, New Zealand have named fourth-choice fly-half Tom Taylor in the starting lineup.
Uncapped Taylor goes up against Matt Toomua, who last week made his debut for the Wallabies and has been given another chance despite the heavy defeat.
That defeat cannot be blamed on Toomua, but he will need to show more evidence of controlling the game and getting his back line working if he is to stay ahead of Quade Cooper for the No. 10 jersey.
The All Blacks may be down on their luck in terms of fly-half resources, but such is the pedigree of their replacements that Taylor will more than likely slip seamlessly into the role.
Much will depend on the quality of ball both half-backs receive from their forwards, but it looks more likely that Taylor will get the better ride and have more chance to show off his talents and steer the All Blacks to another victory.
Richie McCaw vs. Michael Hooper
Australia's young openside Michael Hooper was one of the few Wallabies successes in Sydney and was prominent in setting up skipper Will Genia for his individual try.
Despite his efforts the Wallabies were unable to present quick ball to their inexperienced back line, and Hooper will have to be even quicker and effective at the breakdown this week. He also will hope new blindside partner Scott Fardy proves more effective at clearing out.
The trouble for Hooper is that he is again facing a certain Richie McCaw. The All Blacks skipper showed no signs of his six-month sabbatical as he made his first international start for nine months last week.
McCaw produced a typically effective display in the loose and marked his return with one of the All Blacks' six tries. The veteran appears to have lost none of his pace and renowned skills, and he will again be supported by the outstanding Kieran Read and Steven Luatua.
Expect another tight battle between these two opensides but for the All Blacks skipper to again get the edge thanks to the support of this pack.
Aaron Smith vs. Will Genia
Both scrum-halves had their problems with the new engagement rules introduced last week, but Aaron Smith overshadowed his more illustrious opponent and certainly had more impact on the game, despite Genia's try.
The All Blacks were all-round much slicker and efficient in everything they did, and that included the snipping and service of Smith.
But Genia is a class operator, and it is unlikely he will be outplayed again. The Wallabies are nothing if not fast learners, and Coach McKenzie will have had them working flat-out on the parts of their game that did not go well.
Like Genia in Sydney, Smith this week will have a debutant in Taylor to help guide through the game, and this inevitably will have some impact. Genia will look to expose this new combination, with he and Toomua lookign to impose themselves more on the outcome.
Neither side managed to get much of an edge in the front row last week, despite the Wallabies' well-publicized failings in this department.
The new engagement laws may have had something to do with that, but they have had a week to work on whatever lessons they picked up last week, and this battle could have more bearing on the result.
Some suspected the new laws would help the Wallabies front row of Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore and James Slipper, who collectively have had a tough time of late.
They achieved parity last week but can expect a sterner test from Owen Franks, Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock, who wins his 100th cap in Wellington.
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