New Zealand will be eager to claim their 100th Test victory over Australia when the two rivals kick-off the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
New Zealand will be keen to seal their 100th Test victory over Australia when these two rivals kick-off 2013's Rugby Championship in Sydney on Saturday.
Perhaps the century is ten months overdue after they came within a hair's breadth of winning via a late Dan Carter drop-goal in that epic finish in Brisbane? Unfortunately for All Black fans it was not to be as their hopes of 18 straight victories did not transpire as they went north disappointed.
Just three Australian players remain from the XV that drew 18-18 with the All Blacks the last time these two met. They are: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Michael Hooper and James Slipper. New Zealand meanwhile are a great deal more settled, despite losing Liam Messam late in the week to an injury.
However, there is more than a feeling that the Wallabies are not to be written off in this Rugby Championship opener as we all wait to see if Ewen McKenzie can do what he has said he could do for such a long time of Robbie Deans' reign.
His selection, particularly in the backline, is a good start. Jesse Mogg is deserving of a run in the full-back role following an exceptional campaign for the Brumbies. That means Israel Folau shifts out to right wing – there was no dropping him – while the eleven shirt goes to James O'Connor, a place the masses have for a long time viewed as being his best.
The biggest news though came at fly-half where former Reds companion Quade Cooper was overlooked in favour of Matt Toomua, who earns his starting debut. Toomua has formed a formidable midfield combination with Christian Lealiifano that is built on solid defence and that might well have earned him his run. Cooper must make do with the bench.
Toomua is one of five Brumbies in the side and faces a rematch from the Super Rugby Final with Chiefs number ten Aaron Cruden – it is worth noting that just one Chief makes New Zealand's starting line-up against a Wallaby outfit that is looking for their first success over world champions in Sydney since 2008. Should the hosts win they would go above South Africa into second spot in the rankings due to the Boks not being able to pick up points.
Rankings though are now inconsequential ahead of the World Cup as it's all about the here and now as the All Blacks, led by the returning Richie McCaw and once again a group of well-capped internationals, have the experience on their rivals. The familiarity between the front-row whether it be Andrew Hore or Keven Mealamu at hooker, Luke Romano or Brodie Retallick alongside lock Sam Whitelock, or anywhere else for that matter is immense.
Can this Wallaby group blend so soon after being thrown together by McKenzie? Well, few thought Australia would deny the All Blacks in October last year and Steve Hansen is wary.
“The Australians will front up,” he told reporters during the week. “There is a lot of emotion. A new coach and whenever that happens there seems to be an uplifting in confidence. So we will need to be on the job for the full 80 minutes to put our stamp on the game.”
Ones to watch:
For Australia: The spine of Australia must be strong and with Brumbies quintet Stephen Moore, Ben Mowen, Matt Toomua, Christian Lealiifano and Jesse Mogg part of it, they won't go far wrong. Mogg and Toomua are our men to keep an eye on as if the duo can reproduce their solid yet enterprising brand, then New Zealand may find themselves in a spot of bother. Mogg glides across the turf and we look forward to see how that back-three goes.
For New Zealand: Called in from the cold so to speak after Liam Messam's injury ruled him out, Steven Luatua gets his second cap on Saturday and is deserving of it following a good year in Auckland. Playing alongside Richie McCaw and Kieran Read could be a catalyst in his international career and with Brad Shields waiting in the wings in the ITM Cup, he knows that the pressure is on to perform. We're sure the 22-year-old won't let anyone down.
Head-to-head: We go to the wing for this one as Israel Folau clashes with Julian Savea. Folau hasn't played much rugby union on the wing so this is something of a test for him. However, judging from the recent British and Irish Lions series he seems to like those. Savea, who is favourite with the bookmakers to be top try-scorer, may have his hands full.
2012: 18-18 in Brisbane
2012: New Zealand won 22-0 in Auckland
2012: New Zealand won 27-19 in Sydney
2011: New Zealand won 20-6 in Auckland
2011: Australia won 25-20 in Brisbane
2011: New Zealand won 30-14 in Auckland
2010: Australia won 26-24 in Hong Kong
2010: New Zealand won 23-22 in Sydney
2010: New Zealand won 20-10 in Christchurch
2010: New Zealand won 49-28 in Melbourne
2009: New Zealand won 32-19 in Tokyo
Prediction: Australia will be in with a shout but New Zealand to sneak this one by 2!
Australia: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Christian Leali'ifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty.
Date: Saturday, August 17
Kick-off: 20:05 local (11:05 BST, 10:35 GMT)
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Lourens Van Der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)