Australia v New Zealand: Bledisloe Cup talking points
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 21/10/17 9:50am
The Bledisloe Cup is already in the hands of the All Blacks, however, there's one final Test match between Australia and New Zealand to finish the 2017 series, live on Sky Sports Arena from 9.45am on Saturday.
In Dunedin, Kieran Read and his side retained the cup in the most dramatic of fashions with a 78th-minute converted try that clinched the match.
Ahead of these two sides going head-to-head for the final time this year, we look at five key talking points.
Steve Hansen has made four changes to the matchday 23 that delivered their 25-24 victory over South Africa in Cape Town.
Lima Sopoaga will start this match at fly-half as Hansen has decided not to risk Beauden Barrett after the 26-year-old suffered a head knock last time out.
Elsewhere, Waisake Naholo comes in for the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder while TJ Perenara and Anton Lienert-Brown arrive onto the bench.
Matt Todd was originally named on the bench but has had to pull out of the Test due to a groin injury, Ardie Savea is now part of the side's replacements instead.
Sopoaga will be in New Zealand's starting XV for the first time since his Test debut back in 2015; his last 11 appearances for the side have all been off the bench.
As Hansen has decided not to select a specialist fly-half within his replacements - Damian McKenzie will cover in the case of injuries - the onus is on Sopoaga to deliver for the full 80.
Over the course of the Rugby Championship, Barrett's form has been outstanding and, without question, the first-choice fly-half will be missed.
That said, this weekend presents a golden opportunity to find out exactly how Sopoaga handles Test rugby of this magnitude from the start.
On Saturday, Hansen will learn plenty about the man who's come off the bench so many times and his squad is likely to be better for it.
Rob Simmonds is the only change to the Wallabies XV that beat Argentina 37-20 two weeks ago. That starting group was the same as the one selected to face South Africa the week prior.
After having to chop and change his starters, Michael Cheika is now enjoying a period of stability and this should be of great benefit to his national side.
Of course, injuries often curtail the best-laid plans, but this run of stability should mean Cheika's squad develops well as a result of combinations and partnerships gaining consistent game time together.
Simmonds replaces Izack Rodda who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this week and retiring former captain Stephen Moore is named among the replacements for what will be his 125th Test and his last one in Australia.
New Zealand's focus
"It's one of the hardest things in sport when you beat a team well to back up because subconsciously your brain eases off one or two per cent."
Those were the words of Steve Hansen speaking to allblacks.com as he reflected on the difference between the opening two Bledisloe Cup matches.
A 20-point winning margin in the first was followed by just a six-point margin in the second and this week Hansen has made it clear that their focus remains greater than ever going into this final Bledisloe Cup match.
"For us, our goal is to never be satisfied at where we're at, and that means it's greater than just the outcome.
"It's about how we play, individually and collectively as a unit. We're always striving to get better every game and this week is no different," added Hansen.
The inference is that the head coach's side have been set a clear task to make a statement in Brisbane ahead of their European tour.
During the recent Rugby Championship, New Zealand scored 35 tries to Australia's 25, they made 111 clean breaks to Australia's 69 and they beat 201 defenders to Australia's 130.
The demand from their head coach is clear - they must show the full extent of that statistical gulf and highlight the reason why New Zealand are first in the world and Australia are ranked two places below them.
Opportunity knocks for the Wallabies
Australia's victory against Argentina pushed them up to third in the world rankings, but they believe they haven't fully hit their straps yet as Bernard Foley highlighted.
"Two good wins and two draws. It's not like we're playing the house down, in terms of getting the result that we want but I think there has been that development and that progress amongst the squad which has been pleasing," said the fly-half to rugby.com.au.
Vice-captain Kurtley Beale also indicated that steps forward are being made with it being the 'best environment' that he's been involved in during his time with the Wallabies.
Cheika's side are on a seven-game losing streak against their local rivals, but a victory in Brisbane could provide that extra push forwards leading into their European tour and beyond.
Sonny Bill Williams is an All Black who regularly draws praise for his play on the field however recently he has received a spot of criticism from outside of their camp regarding his form.
The centre started all six of New Zealand's Rugby Championship matches - playing 417 minutes in total - with only Kieran Read and Damian McKenzie spending more time on park.
This week Hansen handed the 32-year-old a vote of confidence with regard to his recent output and once again hands him the starting 12 jersey on Saturday.
"When he's a flashy player everyone moans about him being too flashy and that he doesn't do the hard work.
"At the moment he's doing all the hard work and probably not as much of the other stuff as people get excited about," said the head coach on allblacks.com.
"But, he's in the leadership group, he's leading well. He has a major influence on the young guys with his training habits and he's getting down and dirty and doing the hard work so we're quite happy with him."
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The statistics reinforce Hansen's words with the centre second for number of tackles over the course of the Rugby Championship (58) and third in terms of carries (60).
However, when it comes to clean breaks, his four are a far cry from Rieko Ioane's 17 and he's made an average gain of 2.6 metres per carry, below the team average of 4.6.
This weekend, Kurtley Beale and Tevita Kuridrani will be directly opposite Williams and Ryan Crotty and it could be a golden opportunity for New Zealand's centre to fire a reminder of the 'flashy' elements of his game as well as the hard graft.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Marika Koroibete, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Reece Hodge, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 1 Scott Sio, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3 Sekope Kepu 4 Rob Simmons, 5 Adam Coleman, 6 Jack Dempsey, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 8 Sean McMahon.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 Tom Robertson, 18 Allan Alaalatoa, 19 Lukhan Tui, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Samu Kerevi, 23 Henry Speight.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 1 Kane Hames, 2 Dane Coles, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 5 Scott Barrett, 6 Liam Squire, 7 Sam Cane, 8 Kieran Read (c).
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 David Havili.
Watch Australia v New Zealand on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Arena from 9.45am.