Rugby-Australia tweak pack for All Blacks clash

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia coach Dave Rennie made two changes to his pack but kept his backline intact when he selected the team to chase a first victory over the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1986 in this weekend’s final round of the Rugby Championship.

Cadeyrn Neville comes into the second row in place of Matt Philip and Harry Wilson’s return at number eight means a move to blindside flanker for Rob Valetini, who was again outstanding in the controversial 39-37 loss to New Zealand last time out.

Loose forward Rob Leota ruptured an Achilles tendon against the All Blacks in Melbourne necessitating the back row changes, but Pete Samu retains his spot on the openside flank after a stellar performance in his first start of the season.

The six-week ban handed to replacement lock Darcy Swain on Thursday for a dangerous clearout of Quinn Tupaea also forced one of two changes to the Wallabies bench.

Nick Frost will cover the second row in place of Swain, while loosehead prop Angus Bell will play his first test of the year when he comes on for skipper James Slipper.

Rennie has retained the halfback partnership of scrumhalf Jake Gordon and flyhalf Bernard Foley, whose delay in taking a penalty at the end of his first test in three years almost certainly cost Australia the win in Melbourne.

“The side parked the disappointment of the last test early in the week and we have plenty to play for in Auckland on Saturday night,” said Rennie.

“New Zealand supporters have an expectation that the All Blacks win at Eden Park and we’re excited to get another crack at them at their spiritual home.”

Australia trail New Zealand and South Africa by four points in the championship standings, meaning both of the southern hemisphere superpowers would need to lose on Saturday to give the Wallabies a sniff of a first title since 2015.

Team: 15-Andrew Kellaway, 14-Tom Wright, 13-Len Ikitau, 12-Lalakai Foketi, 11-Marika Koroibete, 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Jake Gordon, 8-Harry Wilson, 7-Pete Samu, 6-Rob Valetini, 5-Cadeyrn Neville, 4-Jed Holloway, 3-Allan Alaalatoa, 2-Dave Porecki, 1-James Slipper (captain)

Replacements: 16-Folau Fainga’a, 17-Angus Bell, 18-Pone Fa’amausili, 19-Nick Frost, 20-Fraser McReight, 21-Nic White, 22-Reece Hodge, 23-Jordan Petaia.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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