Hosts New Zealand have enjoyed a comfortable World Cup journey to this point as they competently topped a group which included France and Tonga. Argentina were to be the opponent in the last eight and the Pumas put up a stern effort for sixty minutes before falling away in the last quarter.
The main cause for concern for Graham Henry however, has been injuries. The All Blacks have already lost star man Dan Carter to a groin injury whilst there were also concerns over captain Richie McCaw. There had been speculation that McCaw would miss the semi final and perhaps the remainder of the tournament with a foot injury but the Crusaders flanker has been named in the side to face the Wallabies.
To emphasise the loss of Dan Carter, back up fly half Colin Slade has subsequently been ruled out with injury also, paving the way for third choice out-half Aaron Cruden to make only his eight appearance for his country.
Elsewhere in the selection, some big names return to the All Blacks side following injury. The impressive Israel Dagg and Richard Kahui have both recovered from knocks to take their places in the New Zealand back three, in what is a very strong looking side overall.
Although Australia haven’t endured as many injury problems as their opponents, they are still sweating over the fitness of Kurtley Beale. The full back has been one of Australia’s star performers in this World Cup, attacking from deep with real pace and menace.
Robbie Deans is affording Beale as much time as possible to prove his fitness but if the former Waratah doesn’t make it, Adam Ashley Cooper will switch to full-back with Anthony Fainga’a occupying the second centre berth.
The Wallabies haven’t been at their best to date in the competition, having been beaten by Ireland already and scraping past South Africa in the quarter final. The return to the side of David Pocock has helped them considerably however, with the openside making twenty-six tackles and securing nine turnovers against the Springboks in a virtuoso performance. Pocock’s battle with Richie McCaw will be one to behold.
Not many expected these two Southern Hemisphere powerhouses to meet at this point in the tournament as they looked set to meet in the final. Australia are capable of beating the All Blacks, as they displayed in the Tri Nations this year, but haven’t won in Eden Park since 1986. Whatever the outcome, an epic battle awaits.
Australia (XV v New Zealand): K Beale; J O’Connor, A Ashley-Cooper, P McCabe, D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; S Kepu, S Moore, B Alexander, D Vickerman, J Horwill, R Elsom, D Pocock, R Samo.
Replacements: T Polota-Nau, J Slipper, R Simmons, B McCalman, L Burgess, B Barnes, A Fainga’a
New Zealand (XV v Australia): I Dagg, C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, R Kahui; A Cruden, P Weepu; T Woodcock, K Mealamu, O Franks, S Whitelock, B Thorn, J Kaino, R McCaw, K Reed.
Replacements: A Hore, B Franks, A Williams, V Vito, A Ellis, S Donald, S Bill Williams