By Patrick McKendry in Perth
Five things to look forward to in the All Blacks' Bledisloe Cup clash against the Wallabies at Optus Stadium tomorrow.
1. First look at Ardie Savea/Sam Cane combination
The pair virtually selected themselves alongside skipper Kieran Read due to their form and absence of a genuine quality blindside flanker alternative. Savea, in particular, just couldn't be left out. The All Blacks missed him against the Boks and here he will be given free rein to create his own unique brand of havoc around the ruck. It's a genuinely exciting prospect, with, as Steve Hansen said this week, few downsides. It's also probably a sign of things to come.
2. Improvements in Richie Mo'unga/Beauden Barrett double act
Considered a bit of a risk by some, the so-called gamble was considered a qualified success in Wellington, with first-five Mo'unga improving throughout at the Cake Tin and fullback Barrett considered by Hansen to be the best player on the pitch. No arguments here, but Barrett said this week he and Mo'unga occasionally found themselves in each other's pockets as first receiver so the plan in Perth will be to be better aligned to give starting halfback Aaron Smith genuine options and the Wallabies defenders genuine problems.
3. Black Ferns v Wallaroos
The Black Ferns v Wallaroos match which kicks off before the Bledisloe Cup test at Optus Stadium is considered part of a double header rather than a curtain-raiser. Last year, a crowd of more than 28,000 watched the New Zealand v Australia women's team play in Sydney, another win for the world champion Kiwis, who have never lost to the Aussies. This time the Wallaroos really do fancy their chances of a first win after 17 straight losses. "This is the best preparation we've ever had," Aussie captain Grace Hamilton said.
4. James O'Connor's return
The Wallabies "bad boy" and best friend of the tabloids is back in a starting role after six years out in the cold. Just to add to the intrigue a little more, coach Michael Cheika has selected O'Connor to start at centre, a relatively unfamiliar position for a player who has now travelled across the entire Aussie backline with the exception of halfback. Cheika's intention is to add creativity to what has been a predictable attack. With O'Connor at centre, Christian Leallifano at first-five and Kurtley Beale at fullback, the Wallabies certainly have the potential for that.
5. Rieko Ioane's bounce back
The All Blacks left wing wasn't quite on his game against the Boks. The timing was off, the rust of a lack of recent game time perhaps getting in the way of a performance Ioane will be craving after a bit of a form drop-off during the latter part of the Blues' season. There is no doubting Ioane's quality and ability to change a game with a piece of brilliance, though. When the bounce-back does come it is likely to be spectacular.