Rugby

All Blacks, Wallabies announce sides for Bledisloe clash in Yokohama

Kyodo

The Wallabies and All Blacks named their sides Thursday for the upcoming Bledisloe Cup game at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium.

Despite being a dead rubber after New Zealand won the first two games of the series, both teams have named strong sides for Saturday’s rematch of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final at the ground that will host the final of the 2019 tournament.

Australia has been hit by the late withdrawal of lock Adam Coleman, on top of an earlier injury to back Reece Hodge, while the All Blacks have opted to mix up their backline.

But the matchup in the centers between Australia’s Israel Folau and New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams, who will win his 50th cap, should ensure the neutrals in the crowd will be entertained by the superstars on show.

For the Wallabies, who beat Argentina 45-34 three weeks ago after trailing 31-7 at the break, Folau’s move to the midfield makes room for the return of Sefa Naivalu on the wing.

Elsewhere, Australia coach Michael Cheika has made two changes to his pack with Allan Alaalatoa promoted to starting loosehead prop in place of Taniela Tupou and Folau Faingaa getting the nod at hooker with Tatafu Polota-Nau unavailable.

Prop Sekope Kepu, whose brother Sione spent a number of years in Japan playing for the Toshiba Brave Lupus, will win his 100th cap should he come off the bench.

Michael Hooper will lead the side and is joined in the back row by David Pocock, who was replaced on the Panasonic Wild Knights squad this season by Matt Todd, who will start the game on the bench for the All Blacks.

“The focus has pretty much been on defense,” scrumhalf Will Genia said earlier in the week.

“It’s a case of not allowing them to play so quickly, whether it’s off quick line-out throws or quick taps. (Not) playing at the pace that they want to play at. Just managing the pace and tempo of the game and playing it in a way we want to play.”

The New Zealand side, captained by Kieran Read, sees the return of several key players from injury in the form of prop Joe Moody and flanker Liam Squire, while prop Nepo Laulala and lock Brodie Retallick have been named on the bench.

Other changes from the All Blacks side that beat South Africa 32-30 on Oct. 7 see TJ Perenara start at halfback with Aaron Smith coming off the bench, Ben Smith moving to the right wing to make way for Damian McKenzie at fullback, and Todd coming onto the bench.

“We’ll be up against a good Australian team and they’ll be desperate to win, but so are we,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

“We know that they’ll come with a lot of passion and physicality, but our focus this week has been about us and what we want to bring — intensity, skill and a triple threat game.”

Hansen, whose side plays the Brave Blossoms on Nov. 3 at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium, also took time to praise their Japanese hosts.

“We’re excited to be playing the first of our two tests here in Japan. The Japanese people have been fantastic hosts and the team has enjoyed the cultural aspects of our time here,” Hansen said.

“We look forward to seeing them on Saturday and hopefully having their support.”