MELBOURNE // Pat McCabe, the Australia inside centre, believes the Wallabies have taken lessons from their drubbing by the All Blacks in their Tri Nations opener and has promised a more aggressive side will meet New Zealand in Saturday's title decider.
The teams clash at Brisbane's Lang Park in the final match of the southern hemisphere tournament with the top-ranked All Blacks holding the psychological edge after belting the Wallabies 30-14 in Auckland.
The victory, set up by a ferocious first quarter that propelled the All Blacks to a 17-0 lead before half time, left the Wallabies scrambling to play catch-up for the rest of the match and sent Australia coach Robbie Deans back to the drawing board.
The Wallabies have since picked themselves up off the canvas with a win over a rusty South Africa side in Durban, and McCabe said the All Blacks could not expect another head-start in Brisbane with next month's World Cup looming in the background.
"I think we learnt a lot from that game — the physicality we need to bring," said McCabe, who was favoured over 92-cap utility Matt Giteau in the World Cup squad.
"Especially in that first 20 minutes — we weren't really in the game at all.
"I would like to think we have made those adjustments and it will be a different contest on Saturday night."
The game will be different in a number of respects for the Wallabies, who will be forced to do without regular winger and first-choice kicker James O'Connor after the youngster was suspended for failing to attend a photo-shoot and function to unveil the World Cup squad last week.
O'Connor's transgression has been Anthony Fainga'a's blessing with the hard-nosed Queenslander selected at outside centre to cover for Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has in turn been shifted out wide.
The untried centre pairing is set for a baptism of fire with 48-Test centre Conrad Smith likely to be named outside the 58-capped Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams in reserve for the visitors. All Blacks coach Graham Henry names his side tomorrow.
"They are obviously an extremely imposing midfield and one I have never played against as centre," McCabe said. "If we slow down their breakdown ball they can have less of an influence on the game.
"[Fainga'a] is a good communicator and enjoys the physical contact ... Defensively we should be OK and in attack ... he has spent a lot of time with Quade [Cooper, at the Queensland Reds] so he should feel pretty comfortable on Saturday night."
The All Blacks are expected to name a full-strength line-up to match the world's second ranked side as they seek to maintain their mental edge in the last Test before the start of the World Cup on September 9.
While a win for the home side would secure Australia's first Tri Nations trophy since 2001 and provide a timely boost before the global showpiece tournament, McCabe said it would be unlikely to rock the All Blacks, who are favourites to clinch their second world title on home soil.
"This game is huge. Australia hasn't been in contention to win the Tri Nations for a long time," McCabe said of the 1991 and 1999 world champions.
"And the confidence you take out of a game like this if you are the victor that is a great boost coming into the World Cup. I'm not sure it will [mean much] next time we face them.
"But to just have beaten the best in the world ahead of the World Cup would show we are heading in the right direction."