Kurtley Beale said an improving Australia team will take heart from their near-miss against the All Blacks as they bid to end their Bledisloe Cup misery in Brisbane on Saturday.
The world champions denied the Wallabies with a converted try less than two minutes from full-time to scrape home 35-29 in a cliff-hanger in Dunedin in August.
The victory meant the All Blacks claimed the Bledisloe Cup, contested between the two sides, for a 15th consecutive year with the Wallabies only winning once in their last 18 meetings.
The Cup may be gone for another year but star centre Beale is confident the Australians, who will wear an indigenous-themed jersey to honour Aborigines’ role in rugby, can finish their home season with an uplifting win.
“I think that (Dunedin) was a huge game for us to get a good understanding of where we are at as a playing squad,” Beale said.
“The more we play, the better we are getting. That’s the positive. We’re still building towards what we believe we can achieve.”
Australia’s attack has been much improved throughout this year with the Wallabies scoring the same number of tries in nine Test matches this year (39) as they scored in 15 Tests during 2016.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is also wary of the Australian threat after they improved markedly during the recent Rugby Championship following a 54-34 beating in the series opener in Sydney.
“From Australia’s point of view, they’ll be desperate to win as they haven’t done so for some time,” he said. “I don’t think after the Dunedin Test we can afford to be one or two percent off.”
Hansen added that New Zealand’s goal was to “never be satisfied at where we’re at”.
“We’re always striving to get better every game and this week is no different,” he warned.
Lock Rob Simmons is the Wallabies’ only change to the team that beat Argentina 37-20 a fortnight ago to finish second in the Rugby Championship behind the All Blacks, replacing Izack Rodda who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Wednesday.
Retiring former captain Stephen Moore was named among the replacements for what will be his last Test in Australia and his 125th overall.
The veteran hooker will end his international career after Australia’s European tour in November.
The All Blacks have opted not to risk fly-half Beauden Barrett after his recent head knock, with Lima Sopoaga to start at No.10.
Although Barrett was cleared of concussion after a clash playing South Africa two weeks ago, he has suffered dizziness and headaches since.
The only other change in the All Blacks’ starting line up is the return of Waisake Naholo on the right wing for the injured Nehe Milner-Skudder.
Although New Zealand has dominated Australia in recent years, Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium has been a difficult venue for the New Zealanders.
Of five matches there over the past 11 years, the All Blacks have lost one, drawn one, and won three but never by more than a four-point margin.
Australia: Israel Folau; Marika Koroibete, Tevita Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale, Reece Hodge; Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Sean McMahon, Michael Hooper (c), Jack Dempsey; Adam Coleman, Rob Simmons; Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Scott Sio. Bench: Stephen Moore, Tom Robertson, Allan Alaalatoa, Lukhan Tui, Ned Hanigan, Nick Phipps, Samu Kerevi, Henry Speight.
All Blacks: Damian McKenzie; Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Liam Squire; Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock; Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Bench: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Todd, TJ Perenara, Anton Lienert-Brown, David Havili.