Set-piece battle brewing in Bledisloe

What's in a number? All Black captain and No 8 Kieran Read (left) and No 6 Ardie Savea at the...
What's in a number? All Black captain and No 8 Kieran Read (left) and No 6 Ardie Savea at the captain's run in Perth. Photo: Getty Images
With all the talk of an experimental All Black loose forward mix featuring the Ardie Savea and Sam Cane double act and the continuation of the dual playmaker strategy, it is perhaps easy for attention to wander from the front row and set-piece battle brewing in Perth.

There have been enough hints throughout the week from the All Blacks to make it reasonably clear that this will be a particular area of focus for them as they seek to provide a platform to take their running game to the next level.

After studying the Wallabies' loss to the Springboks in South Africa, and narrow win over Argentina in Brisbane, the All Blacks have spoken enthusiastically of their admiration for the home side's scrum and lineout.

In fact, they have done it so frequently that it is difficult to escape the feeling that the All Blacks are setting Michael Cheika's men up for something approaching a punchline.

Hansen followed the formula when announcing his side to face the Wallabies at Optus Stadium tonight and was unable to resist the temptation to send French referee Jerome Garces a pointed reminder that perhaps the Wallabies' scrummaging success has not come entirely legally.

"Their lineout at the moment is very impressive, their scrummaging is pretty good - I think they're still leaning a bit and the new rules say you can't lean, so hopefully that gets sorted - but by and large they're always an attacking side with the ball. They're good players.''

Hansen has named his best and most experienced props, Joe Moody and Owen Franks, to start - a clear indication they will be his go-to guys in Japan next month.

Dane Coles gets his opportunity at hooker this time after Codie Taylor started the previous test against the Boks in Wellington, but that competition is more of a toss-up.

The quality of locks Scott Barrett, in for the injured Brodie Retallick, and Sam Whitelock, speaks for itself.

Facing them will be Scott Sio, the relatively inexperienced hooker Tolu Latu, and Allan Alaalatoa, who is returning from injury. Locks Izack Rodda and Rory Arnold have played 19 and 21 tests respectively.

Hansen's tight five has struggled to find its rhythm in their first two tests of the year due in part to the dramatic changing of personnel.

Tighthead prop Franks is eager to make a statement.

Franks said he had responded quickly to Hansen's demand his props do more around the field away from their core roles of set-piece grunt work.

"It was a pretty clear message so I definitely had to change the way I was training,'' Franks said.

"I've been working really hard to get more out of myself around the field. I think it's the nature of the way the game is going; guys are getting fitter and stronger, especially us guys up front.

"I haven't cut back on [weight training] because at the end of the day you still get judged on your scrummaging. It's more adapting the rest of your training to try to get more out of our game. For example, if you're lifting weights, do it with less rest.'' 

- By Patrick McKendry in Perth

Wallabies v All Blacks

Perth, tonight, 9.45pm

All Blacks: Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Rieko Ioane, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read (captain), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, George Bridge. 

Wallabies: Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi, Marika Koroibete, Christian Lealiifano, Nic White, Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper (captain), Lukhan Salakaia­Loto, Rory Arnold, Izack Rodda, Allan Alaalatoa, Tolu Latu, Scott Sio. Reserves: Folau Fainga’a, James Slipper, Taniela Tupou, Adam Coleman, Luke Jones, Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Tom Banks.

Referee: Jerome Garces (France)


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