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All Blacks gear up for Wallabies test at Bledisloe Cup

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The Canadian Press
10/17/2013 1:31:40 AM
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WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand may face a greater challenge from itself than from Australia when the teams meet in a Bledisloe Cup rugby test in Dunedin on Saturday.

The All Blacks played their best rugby of recent years when they beat South Africa 38-27 in Johannesburg two weeks ago, clinching the Rugby Championships in a match which has been hailed as one of the best ever played.

Having reached such heights, the All Blacks must try to maintain that standard in a dead rubber -- the Bledisloe Cup having already been won -- and against an injury-battered Australia.

"We respect the Australians immensely," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said. "But we understand that this match not only has the challenge of our opponent but also one of the biggest challenges in sport, that is backing up a great performance with another great performance.

"This is a challenge this team needs and will help define the progress we are making. If we don't attempt to improve our performance from our last outing, we are vulnerable to being overtaken."

Australia is also coming off a good performance, having won 54-17 away to Argentina two weeks ago.

Scrumhalf Will Genia will play his 50th test, becoming the 39th Australian player to do so but goalkicking centre Christian Lealiifano is absent.

New Zealand-born winger Peter Betham, who plays for the New South Wales, won a Wallabies callup when wingers Joe Tomane and Chris Feauai-Sautia were both ruled out with injuries.

Matt Toomua has been named at inside centre in place of Lealiifano and flyhalf Quade Cooper will likely take over the goalkicking.

Fans at Dunedin's indoor stadium, which has a section called "the zoo" for the raucous behaviour of its supporters, are likely to renew their campaign against Cooper, who is deeply disliked in New Zealand. He has a history of poor performances against the All Blacks, stretching back to the semifinals of the 2011 World Cup.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, who also coached Cooper at the Queensland Reds, said Genia's struggles against New Zealand were overstated.

"I don't think he has a problem," he said. "I don't have a problem. If he's there he'll do the job.

"Part of what's been created is a function of the media liking to talk about that. But he just gets on with playing and that's what he's been doing."

New Zealand has been able to choose a side much less dictated by injury than Australia's. Veteran centre Conrad Smith has began a four-month "sabbatical" from rugby, so Ben Smith moves from wing to centre and allowing the return of winger Cory Jane after a nine-months injury layoff.

Hansen said Jane is "a 43-test veteran who before his injury was by the media's opinion -- and probably my own too -- one of the best wingers in the world.

"He hasn't lost any form while he's been injured. What he has lost is his time in the jersey."

New Zealand All-Blacks (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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