It's all black magic at Eden Park and other talking points ahead of New Zealand v Wallabies

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The Wallabies face another daunting task when they take on the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday morning (11:35 UAE time).

After last week’s comprehensive win in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney, Steve Hansen’s side are on the brink of sealing their 16th successive Bledisloe Cup against their trans-Tasman rivals.

Here, we take a look at the main talking points going into the fixture.

Black magic at Eden Park

The All Blacks are on a 41-match unbeaten run at the Auckland venue since being beaten there by France in 1994.

In fact, their opponents for this weekend, Australia, haven’t won anywhere in New Zealand since Dunedin in 2001 and last tasted victory at Eden Park 32 years ago with a 22-9 result in 1986.

Since then they have lost 17 Tests to New Zealand in Auckland.

At Eden Park, the All Blacks are even more dominant over the Wallabies with an 85 per cent success rate, having won 23 of 27 Tests.

It doesn’t look like it will get any better either for Michael Chieka’s side, who look low on confidence.

Franks 100 not out

Last week it was Sam Whitelock celebrating his 100th cap, now it’s Owen Franks’ turn to crack three figures.

The tight-head prop is set to become the ninth All Black to play at least 100 tests, and the third front row player after hooker Keven Mealamu (132) and prop Tony Woodcock (118).

The Motueka native, who turns 31 in December, spent almost a year on the sidelines with an Achilles injury, but is back to his immaculate best after a successful Super 15 campaign with the Crusaders.

Franks may still be without an international try, but his unselfish work in the engine room has shaped him into one of the most influential players in world rugby.

Return of Jordie Barrett

The 21-year-old’s form was off colour during the Hurricanes’ Super Rugby campaign this season, most notably in the semi-final defeat to Crusaders.

With Rieko Ioane injured, Hansen has opted to start the youngest Barrett brother at full-back after omitting him from the 23 last week.

Barrett needs to prove he deserves a regular starting spot, given many believe an in-form Nehe Milner-Skudder should have been named in the starting team ahead of him for this fixture.

At 6-foot-4, the New Plymouth man possesses gas, power, good defence and reliability under the high ball, and has the chance to prove his doubters wrong again on home soil.

Cheika under pressure

An All Blacks win in Auckland on Saturday will seal the Bledisloe Cup for a 16th successive year and may shorten Cheika’s tenure as Wallabies coach.

His record of 25 wins from 49 tests – a 51 per cent record – is only worse than Ewen McKenzie’s 50 per cent win ratio for Wallabies coaches.

Against the All Blacks, Cheika’s side have won twice in 10 matches, one in seven against England and one in five against Ireland.

To make matters worse, a defeat in Auckland will mean six defeats for the Wallabies in the last seven Tests.

However, another lost Bledisloe Cup series is only going to add more pressure to his job. The real question remains whether he will still be in charge come next year’s Rugby World Cup?

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Chris Ashton suspended for seven weeks for tip-tackle in pre-season friendly

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Chris Ashton has received a seven-week suspension for his tip-tackle on Rory Kockott during Sale’s pre-season friendly win at Castres last Friday.

Ashton did not accept the charge but an independent disciplinary hearing found him guilty and issued a sanction that mean will miss England’s next training camp in Bristol and the first six games of the Sharks’ Gallagher Premiership season.

“It is an important principle of rugby regulation to prevent injury to others,” panel chair Richard Whittam said.

“Provocation is not a defence to foul play and lifting a player and dropping that player such that his head makes contact with the ground has the potential to cause serious injury.”

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Jordie Barrett to start against Australia as Owen Franks prepares for 100th All Blacks cap

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The Barrett brothers will be lining up alongside each other against Australia.

Jordie Barrett will win his third All Blacks cap as he has been named at full-back in an injury-enforced change for New Zealand coach Steve Hansen ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Australia.

The All Blacks are bracing themselves for an Wallabies backlash in their Rugby Championship clash in Auckland on Saturday.

With injured Rieko Ioane ruled out, Waisake Naholo moves across to the left wing to accommodate Ben Smith on the right while Barrett, not required last week in Sydney, runs on at 15 for his third Test start, and will start alongside brother Beauden.

The one other backline change sees Ngani Laumape take the 12 jersey, replacing Ryan Crotty who was concussed when the All Blacks beat the Wallabies 38-13 in Sydney last week.

The starting forward pack is unchanged, with tighthead prop Owen Franks to play his milestone 100th Test, following on from Sam Whitelock reaching the mark in Sydney. On the bench Ofa Tuungafasi comes in for Tim Perry.

Another New Zealand win will give them the Bledisloe Cup, contested annually between the two countries, for a 16th straight year.

Steve Hansen.

Steve Hansen.

Hansen said he expected a much more determined Wallabies to take the field in the return encounter at Eden Park.

“The team is fully aware that it has the opportunity to close out the Bledisloe Cup series on Saturday. In saying that, we know that there’ll be a massive response from Australia following their performance last week,” he said.

“Not only are we excited by this challenge, but we’re looking forward to responding ourselves with a better performance.

“Our preparation this week – both physically and mentally – has been all about getting ready to do that. We’ll be looking to execute to an even higher level and play at an intensity that will challenge ourselves and our opponent.”

A win will also move them a step closer to a sixth Rugby Championship title in seven years.

Auckland’s Eden Park has not been kind to Australia in recent years.

They have lost all 17 Tests they have played there since 1986, including the most recent four by an average of 27 points, and the All Blacks have won their past 41 Tests at the venue since last losing to France 23-20 in 1994.

Hansen has also paid tribute to Franks, the ninth All Blacks centurion.

“He has started 90 of his 99 Tests to date, which is an incredible achievement for a tighthead prop, one of the most physically demanding positions on the footy field,” Hansen said.

“His professionalism and dedication to improvement has been an inspiration to other All Blacks for quite some time now.”

Franks already holds one notable record having played more games than any other player in Test history without scoring a try.

New Zealand (15-1): Jordie Barrett; Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Sam Cane, Liam Squire; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.

Replacements: Nathan Harris, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.

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