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All Blacks get ready for Wallaby backlash

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New Zealand coach Graham Henry is bracing for a Wallaby backlash when his All Blacks take them on in Saturday’s Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup rugby Test match at Sydney’s Olympic stadium.

The Wallabies are smarting after last month’s disastrous tour of South Africa, when they were pilloried by the Australian media for their off-field behaviour and for losing both of their Test matches against the Springboks.

The All Blacks lost 22-16 to the Springboks in their Tri-Nations match in Cape Town last weekend, so Saturday’s game looms large for both trans-Tasman rivals to get on the board in the tournament.

“I was here for the 2003 World Cup and there was quite a bit of negativism around the Australian team prior to the semi-final (against New Zealand),” Henry told a press conference Wednesday.

“I think we’ll face the same sort of team that the All Blacks did on that occasion. An Australian team that is ready to play, on the edge, up against it and they will respond as they normally do with a huge performance.”

Umaga sprained his ankle in the Cape Town loss and Henry has named Conrad Smith on standby should Umaga not recover in time to play in the centre.

“Tana trained today, but not with the team, and he got a reasonable report, so it’s a 50-50 deal at this stage whether he will play,” Henry said. He said Umaga has galvanised the All Blacks as team leader.

“He’s obviously playing out of his skin at the moment, he’s playing as good rugby as I’ve seen him play at this level, he had an outstanding series against the British Lions and I think he’s grown immensely as a captain of the team,” Henry said.

“He’s always had the respect of the players and they look up to him, he leads from the front…all of those things you’re going to miss.

“Conrad Smith has played some pretty crucial Tests for us, he played in Paris last year at centre, he’s played against the Lions and he’s always played well.

“His work-rate and his feel for the game, he won’t let us down, but we won’t have Tana’s leadership.”

New Zealand team (15-1) – Mils Muliaina; Rico Gear, Tana Umaga (captain) or Conrad Smith, Aaron Mauger, Joe Rokocoko; Daniel Carter, Piri Weepu; Rod So’oialo, Richie McCaw, Jerry Collins; Ali Williams, Chris Jack; Carl Hayman, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.

Reserves: Derren Witcombe, Greg Somerville, James Ryan, Marty Holah, Kevin Senio, Luke McAlister, Leon MacDonald.

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