Beauden Barrett, New Zealand’s match-winner against Australia last time out, is missing from the All Blacks squad for this weekend’s final Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane due to the injury he picked up against South Africa a fortnight ago.
Barrett scored 34 points against the Wallabies across the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship, including the crucial try in Dunedin as the world champions snatched a 35-29 win from the jaws of defeat.
Since then the World Rugby Player of the Year for 2016 has continued to be in imperious form as New Zealand went through the Rugby Championship unbeaten, but his ever-present record in 2017 comes to an end with Lima Sopoaga handed his second test start at number 10.
Sopoaga is one of four changes to the squad that beat the Springboks 25-24, with Waisake Naholo replacing the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder on the wing, while TJ Perenara and Anton Lienert-Brown are named amongst the replacements.
Sam Whitelock will equal the long-standing record held by Ian Jones of 75 test starts by an All Blacks second-rower when he runs out at Suncorp Stadium.
A winning New Zealand stand to gain between 0.31 and 0.46 of a rating point depending on the margin of victory, potentially increasing their lead over England in the World Rugby Rankings to 5.84 points, while defeat for Australia would result in a fall of one place to fourth.
Aside from a hugely disappointing first half in Sydney, Australia will feel very unlucky to not have a victory over the All Blacks in 2017.
After trailing their rivals 54-6 in Sydney, the Wallabies stormed back with 28 unanswered points to make it 54-34 at half-time. In Dunedin, Australia leapt out a 17-0 lead and held their advantage until the 78th minute when Barrett crossed to secure the Bledisloe Cup.
Michael Cheika’s side will be motivated to steal one back on the All Blacks in front of a boisterous Brisbane crowd, especially as this will be hooker Stephen Moore’s last test on home soil before he brings the curtain down on his 12-year international career.
A maximum of 2.54 points are available to Australia should they finally get over the line and bag a win against the All Blacks, which would be enough for them to not only cement third place in the rankings but also close the gap on England to a fraction over two points.
COLOMBIA EYE FOURTH TITLE
Test rugby is also being played on two other continents this weekend, with the conclusion of the South American B Championship taking place in Medellin as Colombia play Venezuela in the title decider, while there are three games to look forward to in the Rugby Europe region.
Victory for Colombia would see them clinch a fourth straight South American B Championship and also move them above Sri Lanka and into 41st position in the rankings, while Venezuela stand to gain between four and five places, potentially lifting them as high as 57th, if they achieve their first win over Los Tucanes in six attempts.
In Rugby Europe’s Conference 1 North, Hungary get the chance to put last weekend’s narrow 12-10 defeat to Sweden behind them when they entertain a Latvian side some 21 places above them in the rankings in 50th.
Richie Williams’ side stand to gain 1.39 points and a five-place rise to 66th if they upset the odds in Esztergom, or 3.24 points and seven places if the winning margin is more than 15 points.
A Latvian victory could see them climb as high as 48th with Guyana and Madagascar the sides to suffer, but a fall of seven places to 57th is possible in defeat if combined with an Israel win in Andorra, as the rankings would suggest.
Israel go into the Conference 1 South match ranked in 59th, with the best outcome a one-place rise to 58th, while Andorra are 70th. A big Andorran victory would see the mountainous country move to within one place of their visitors in the rankings, to 63rd, on 41.39 points to Israel’s 41.54.
Finally, Serbia, ranked 78th, travel to Vienna to Austria, ranked seven places lower in 85th. A big Austrian win would result in them moving up three places to 82nd with Serbia slipping below them in the table to 84th.
With 1.65 points on offer for a resounding victory, Serbia stand to gain a maximum of seven places to climb up to 71st. Serbia have never lost to Austria in three previous outings, with an average winning margin of 17 points.
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