The Bledisloe Cup roadshow makes its latest pit-stop tomorrow when Australia try to arrest their recent slump against New Zealand in the so-called Rumble in the Rice Bowl in Japan. It is the second fixture between the trans-Tasman rivals to be staged on neutral territory in consecutive seasons. Last year the sides met at Hong Kong Stadium, as the two unions set about exploring the growth opportunities for the sport in Asia.
The Australian union, who have been the main drivers behind the idea, were also considering the idea of an off-shore Test against England for 2010. South Africa and Ireland also had advanced discussions about staging a fixture in the UAE last year, but it did not come to pass as the new rugby stadium in Dubai was still under construction. As if Australia's task is not already sizeable enough on the field in Tokyo, their hopes have been hit further by the loss of Berrick Barnes.
Barnes, the gifted back who was elevated to vice captain in the recent Wallabies shake-up, turned an ankle in training yesterday. The centre, 23, is waiting on the results of X-rays to see whether he can remain with the squad for their grand slam tour of the UK and Ireland. The Wallabies coach, New Zealander Robbie Deans, has promoted teenager James O'Connor from the bench to start at full-back, with Adam Ashley-Cooper moving into the midfield.
New Zealand have selection issues of their own to address following their underwhelming display in the Tri Nations, which was won by South Africa. Joe Rokocoko has been jettisoned due to a lack of form and is replaced on the wing instead by Sitiveni Sivivatu, who has 28 tries in 34 Tests for the All Blacks. Rodney So'oialo, who credited a run in the Air New Zealand Cup for restoring his love for rugby, has been recalled to play at No 8 after three matches on the bench. Conrad Smith is back at centre due to Isaia Toeava's pelvic injury.