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Title beckons for All Blacks

CHRISTCHURCH , August 6 – The All Blacks, on the verge of wrapping up the Tri-Nations crown on Saturday, sense an air of desperation about a Wallabies side determined to avoid sinking to an all-time low.Another bonus point win for the All Blacks will ensure they take the southern hemisphere rugby crown with two matches to play and extend their run of consecutive Test victories over Australia to nine.

"They’re going to be desperate. It’s going to be a tough Test match, I’ve got no doubt about that," mused captain Richie McCaw Friday as the All Blacks prepared to back up from last week’s 49-28 thrashing of Australia in Melbourne.

The Wallabies have not beaten New Zealand since former All Black Robbie Deans crossed the Tasman and coached Australia to a 34-19 win in his first clash against his old team three years ago.

The eight losses since are only one short of the record nine suffered by Australia against New Zealand from 1936-47 but captain Rocky Elsom preached a confident message as he dismissed the historical record as irrelevant.

"There’s a lot of statistics around but what’s most important to us is we have a game to play and whoever’s most willing on Saturday will probably win," he said, warning the Wallabies were prepared for a physical battle.

His major concern was the "clutter" of All Blacks bodies he claimed were slowing the ball at rucks and the Wallabies were prepared to act if the referee didn’t.

"We can’t hamper ourselves by leaving bodies there when you’re trying to clear the ball, Elsom said.

"You’ve got to move those bodies as best you can, whether they’re on our side or attacking the ball. We’ve got to make sure that space is clear for Willie (Genia)."

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However, McCaw refused to rise to the suggestion of All Blacks’ illegalities.

"We want to make sure we focus on our performance rather than worrying about what they turn up with," he said.

"They’re going to fire into it, they always do and we’re going to have to match that and be better."

The All Blacks so far this year have proved themselves a class above their Tri-Nations rivals Australia and South Africa with an adventurous brand of rugby that has bagged them 15 tries in three matches while conceding only five.

They have also claimed a four-try bonus point in each game to put them firmly on track to win their 10th Tri-Nations crown in the 15-year history of the tournament.

Coach Graham Henry has made only one injury-enforced change to his starting line up with Piri Weepu the run-on halfback in place of the injured Jimmy Cowan and the uncapped Alby Mathewson comes on to the bench.

Mathewson left the All Blacks Friday to be with his partner who is due to give birth in Wellington and he will rejoin the team a few hours before kick-off.

Deans’ search for a winning formula has seen him replace the experienced midfield back Berrick Barnes and hooker Stephen Moore with first-year Wallabies Anthony Faingaa and his brother Saia.

Adam Ashley-Cooper moves from fullback to outside centre to replace the injured Rob Horne and Kurtley Beale takes over the 15 jersey.

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Teams (15-1)

New Zealand: Mils Muliaina, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Joe Rokocoko, Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Victor Vito, Alby Mathewson, Aaron Cruden, Benson Stanley

Australia: Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Anthony Faingaa, Drew Mitchell, Matt Giteau, Will Genia, Richard Brown, David Pocock, Rocky Elsom (captain), Nathan Sharpe, Dean Mumm, Salesi Ma’afu, Saia Faingaa, Benn Robinson.

Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Matt Hodgson, Luke Burgess, Berrick Barnes, Cameron Shepherd

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (RSA)

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