Australia and New Zealand will write another chapter in their storied rivalry on Saturday, as the two meet in the opening match of the 2017 Rugby Championship at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
As is always the case when these sides meet, results will count towards the Bledisloe Cup series. This match is the first of a trio between them this year, with the reverse Rugby Championship fixture in a week’s time in Dunedin; the two sides will go head-to-head at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on October 21 in a potential decider.
It’s a trophy that has not been out of New Zealand hands since 2002, when Australia won a two-match series 2-0. Once again, the All Blacks are the favourites to earn this prestigious accolade.
While thoughts don’t turn away from the Bledisloe Cup for long when these two teams meet, focus will initially be on the Rugby Championship for the duo.
If Australia are to dethrone New Zealand, you sense they will need to begin that process in Sydney. But it’s been a while since the Wallabies scored any kind of victory against their old rivals, the most recent coming at the ANZ Stadium in August 2015.
In truth, Mike Cheika’s side have not been in the best form since then, with the Rugby World Cup final loss to New Zealand seemingly knocking the wind out of their sails; just eight wins have followed in the 18 matches since. The coach did not sound particularly confident of a win on Saturday either.
The Rugby Championship kicks off for 2017 this weekend, starting with old foes New Zealand and Australia facing off in a match that doubles as the first of the three-match Bledisloe Cup series.
So where will the two matches be played, what time do they kick off, and who will feature for the Wallabies and All Blacks?
Time and venue
The tournament opener will be played at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, with kick off scheduled for 8pm (AEST) on Saturday 19 August.
Australia vs New Zealand team lists, ins and outs
Wallabies team: 1. Scott Sio 2. Stephen Moore 3. Allan Alaalatoa 4. Rory Arnold 5. Adam Coleman 6. Ned Hanigan 7. Michael Hooper (c) 8. Sean McMahon 9. Will Genia 10. Bernard Foley 11. Curtis Rona 12. Kurtley Beale 13. Samu Kerevi 14. Henry Speight 15. Israel Folau
Reserves 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau 17. Tom Robertson 18. Sekope Kepu 19. Rob Simmons 20. Lopeti Timani 21. Nick Phipps 22. Reece Hodge 23. Tevita Kuridrani
The big inclusion is former NRL star Curtis Rona, who makes his Wallabies debut on the wing in place of the injured Dane Haylett-Petty. Also in the backs, Kurtley Beale makes a welcome return to the Wallabies’ midfield, his first Test match since the 2015 World Cup final loss to the All Blacks.
Up front, Sean McMahon is back in the side, starting at No.8, while Waratahs teammates Ned Hannigan and Michael Hooper will round out the loose forwards. Otherwise, things are fairly settled in the Wallabies pack.
All Blacks team: 1. Joe Moody 2. Codie Taylor 3. Owen Franks 4. Brodie Retallick 5. Samuel Whitelock 6. Liam Squire 7. Sam Cane 8. Kieran Read (C) 9. Aaron Smith 10. Beauden Barrett 11. Rieko Ioane 12. Sonny Bill Williams 13. Ryan Crotty 14. Ben Smith 15. Damian McKenzie
Reserves 16. Nathan Harris 17. Wyatt Crockett 18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi 19. Luke Romano 20. Ardie Savea 21. TJ Perenara 22. Lima Sopoaga 23. Anton Lienert-Brown
The biggest surprise selection for the All Blacks is seeing Damian McKenzie listed to start at fullback, with Ben Smith shifting to the wing, and Israel Dagg missing out altogether. Sonny Bill Williams slots straight back in at second five-eighth after his four-week suspension for a savage shoulder charge which saw him sent off during the second Lions Test and miss the third.
In the forwards, the Kiwis are more settled, with Liam Squire taking Jerome Kaino’s spot at blindside flanker the only change of note.
Noise, noise, noise. The All Blacks have been surrounded by it ahead of Bledisloe I in Sydney on Saturday night, and not a lot of it has been about the 80 minutes that will unfold at the Olympic stadium.
Therein lies the challenge for Steve Hansen’s men as they seek to get their show back on track after a disappointing series against the British and Irish Lions. Somehow they have to shut out all the distractions, and focus firmly on the task at hand, which is continuing their Bledisloe dominance over the wobbly Wallabies.
Should be easy, right?