Preview: Australia v New Zealand

Date published: August 16 2014

Australia and New Zealand clash for the 150th time in a Test this weekend as the 2014 Rugby Championship kicks off in Sydney.

Australia and New Zealand clash for the 150th time in a Test this weekend as the Rugby Championship kicks off at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday.

It promises much as a spectacle with a healthy dose of subplots that should make for a brilliant 80 minutes between these trans-Tasman rivals.

But who can shy away from the form book as before we look ahead to the fixture, the All Blacks are seven games unbeaten against Australia.

There's no hiding from it as Steve Hansen's men look for eighteen straight Test wins, taking a step toward an eleventh successive Bledisloe Cup.

However, one gets a sense that despite the Wallabies having won just two of their last 20 meetings against New Zealand, things might be about to change as Australia continue to close the gap at Super Rugby level and from what we saw on the Test scene in June, they are a threat.

As coach Ewen McKenzie said recently, he feels his side is now capable of coming together with little preparation time and still execute his style of play, something shown over their past seven games as the forwards created quality ball for the X-factor on show in the backs.

X-factor indeed during June and Super Rugby as the likes of Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Matt Toomua, Michael Hooper and Sekope Kepu are enjoying some of the best form of their careers. Meanwhile, Bernard Foley, Will Skelton and Nick Phipps only make the bench, which is testament to the depth they currently boast. Only the wing is where some are concerned but Pat McCabe and Rob Horne are no mugs at this level.

Of course there is a slight worry at hooker due to the absence of their two go-to men, as Nathan Charles is charged with getting the line-out functioning by hitting three athletic options in Scott Fardy, Rob Simmons and Sam Carter, who returns after a fine debut.

The All Blacks have had their own selection dilemmas leading up to a tournament they've not lost a fixture in since its inception in 2012, something they will attempt to continue as seven Crusaders return to the scene of that defeat. No doubt they'll be hungrier than most.

Losing Dan Carter to injury is of course a setback as his recent form at inside centre was strong, but in Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett, they are blessed with two superb tens. It is worth noting how key Barrett was off the bench in winning 2013's Rugby Championship.

Furthermore, Barrett's versatility means that there's no spot for Israel Dagg on the bench as he continues to play second fiddle to Ben Smith, who stays at fifteen. Meanwhile the latest decision was to replace veteran Conrad Smith, who returns home for the birth of his child.

Drama aplenty then in the lead-up to this one which won't let us down in what we expect to be a tight affair not lacking in entertainment as the Rugby Championship starts with a bang.

Ones to watch:

For Australia: The surprise selection of the week came from Ewen McKenzie as the stand-out fly-half from Super Rugby, Bernard Foley, was dropped for Kurtley Beale. While Beale was also excellent for the Waratahs, it was in the twelve jersey as Foley was orchestrating matters. Of course dropping Matt Toomua would have been a huge call but either way, the pressure is on Beale to prove McKenzie right. Also keep an eye on Sam Carter, whose hard work around the field on debut in June and for the Brumbies earns him a deserved start.

For New Zealand: Last year's top try-scorer Ben Smith retains the number fifteen jersey after a strong June as Israel Dagg misses out altogether, with Beauden Barrett the man covering both fly-half and full-back off the bench. Smith was a lethal finisher on the wing in 2013 but now in his preferred position, expect him to show all the strings to his bow both in defence and attack. He's a special player. Kieran Read is of course another to monitor as he will mix the ugly work with dashes of brilliance out wide where wing Julian Savea usually profits.

Head-to-head: We look at the two hookers for this one as Nathan Charles rockets up the Wallaby pecking order to face Dane Coles. Charles, starting in the absence of Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau who are nursing respective injuries, gets the nod ahead of James Hanson and like he's done for the past two Super Rugby seasons, will give a good account of himself in all areas. Coles meanwhile is looking to bounce back from a slightly disappointing June against England duo Rob Webber and Dylan Hartley but when on song the busy Hurricanes front-row is an outstanding player up front and around the park.

Recent results:

2013: New Zealand won 41-33 in Dunedin
2013: New Zealand won 27-16 in Wellington
2013: New Zealand won 47-29 in Sydney
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

Prediction: The Wallabies could well sneak this one in Sydney. Australia by 3 points!

The teams:

Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nic White, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 James Slipper.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Scott Higginbotham, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Bernard Foley, 23 Tevita Kuridrani.

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Malakai Fekitoa/Ryan Crotty, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa/Ryan Crotty.

Date: Saturday, August 16
Kick-off: 20:05 local (11:05 BST, 10:05 GMT)
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite, Stuart Berry
TMO: Shaun Veldsman