MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Australia and New Zealand head into Saturday’s Tri-Nations decider insisting their focus is on the silverware but both sides will be keenly aware that far more than southern hemisphere bragging rights are on the line.
The Brisbane showdown pits the two top rugby nations against each other in their last test hit-out two weeks before the World Cup kicks off in New Zealand.
Fans on both sides of the Tasman sea remain desperate for clues as to their team’s form ahead of the global showpiece tournament and the clash at cauldron-like Lang Park may well bring the gap between them into sharper focus.
Befitting a dress-rehearsal for the World Cup final at Eden Park, both the All Blacks and Wallabies have named their strongest available sides, throwing injury caution to the wind.
Coach Graham Henry has recalled captain Richie McCaw and talismanic flyhalf Dan Carter among 11 first-choice players rested for the All Blacks’ South African tour, where a second-string side fumbled its way to an 18-5 loss against the reigning world champions last week.
The Wallabies have far less depth to chop and change but have added backbone to a side that was trounced 30-14 by the All Blacks in their Tri-Nations opener in Eden Park. With Rocky Elsom dumped as captain after the Wallabies’ 14-9 win over the Springboks, James Horwill will take charge over for the first time at Lang Park, where he hoisted the Super rugby trophy as skipper of the Queensland Reds earlier this year.