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Time:20:05 local, 10:05 GMT
Australia will launch their latest bid to prise the Bledisloe Cup from New Zealand’s grasp when the two sides go head-to-head in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney on Saturday night.
The All Blacks have dominated the battle for trans-Tasman bragging rights in recent years having held the sizeable silverware for the last decade. The Wallabies may have had their successes in that time – most recently in Brisbane in 2011 on their way to the Tri-Nations title – but they have failed to match the consistent excellence of their neighbours who collected their 11th southern hemisphere crown last year.
Australia enter this latest showdown – the first of three Cup clashes in the next three months – on the back of a demoralising series defeat to the British & Irish Lions last month that prompted an end of Robbie Deans’ tenure as the Wallabies’ coach and he has since been succeeded by Ewen McKenzie. There has been no such turmoil in New Zealand with coach Steve Hansen having seen his side warm-up for the defence of their title with a hard-fought series victory over France in June.
The Wallabies have opted to inject some new blood into the mix in the hope of reversing their fortune but they are not the only side boasting fresh faces with New Zealand captain Richie McCaw back in black having returned from a sabbatical aimed at re-charging his batteries.
Australia v New Zealand: Head-to-Head
- All-time record: Played: 170; New Zealand won 117, Australia won 47,drawn 6
- Biggest winning margin: NZ: 37 (43-6, Wellington 1996); Aus: 21 (28-7, Sydney 1999)
- Highest score: NZ: 50 (50-21, Sydney, 2003); Aus: 35 (35-39 Sydney 2000)
- Most tries: NZ: 9 (38-13, Dunedin, 1936); Aus: 5 (20-16, Sydney, 1924), (30-16, Auckland, 1978) and (35-39, Sydney 2000)
- Most points (individual): NZ: 322 Dan Carter; Aus: 176 Matt Burke
- Most tries (individual): NZ: 8 – Christian Cullen, Doug Howlett, Ian Kirkpatrick, Richie McCaw, Ma’a Nonu; Aus: 8 – David Campese
- Click here for New Zealand’s Test record
- Click here for Australia’s Test record
- Click here for all New Zealand v Australia matches
Australia – Player to Watch: Fly-half Matt Toomua pulled the strings for the Brumbies throughout a Super Rugby season that ended with a narrow defeat to the Chiefs in the final. He also helped orchestrate a victory over the British & Irish Lions but can he transfer that form to the Test stage?
Australia – Team News: The Wallabies have named five uncapped players in their squad – headed by playmaker Toomua who makes his debut at fly-half. His fellow Brumbies – Scott Sio, Scott Fardy, Nic White and Tevita Kuridrani – have all earned places on the bench. The starting line-up shows eight changes to that beaten in the 3rd Test against the Lions – Ben Mowen shifts to No.8 and James O’Connor to the wing with prop James Slipper, lock Rob Simmons, flankers Hugh McMeniman and Michael Hooper, fullback Jesse Mogg and Toomua also handed starts.
New Zealand – Player to Watch: Few doubt whether Richie McCaw will still be able to cut it in international rugby having been out of action for most of the year but it will be interesting to see if he is up-to-speed on his first outing Test since his recent return.
New Zealand – Team News: McCaw returns to lead an experienced-looking line-up that shows six changes to that which started the 3rd Test against France in June. The most notable is the selection of Aaron Cruden at fly-half with Dan Carter sidelined through injury. Elsewhere, Julian Savea returns to the left wing and Aaron Smith starts at scrum-half. McCaw is back at openside while Steve Luatua was a late inclusion at blindside following an injury to Liam Messam. Tony Woodcock will pack down at loose-head with Wyatt Crockett another absent through injury.
Key Battle: These sides boast plenty of talent but the most fascinating battle will arguably be between the respective back threes. Australia will start with Jesse Mogg, Israel Folau and James O’Connor while New Zealand will offer up Israel Dagg, Ben Smith and Julian Savea – game-breakers aplenty.