Preview: Australia v New Zealand
The Wallabies will attempt to eradicate a decade of Bledisloe Cup disappointment when they face the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.
The defending Tri-Nations champions have not prevailed in the trans-Tasman rivalry since 2002, so there should be plenty of intensity when they get their first crack at the Kiwis since their 20-6 World Cup semifinal defeat.
The World Cup winners will have their own point to prove seeing as defeat in Brisbane last year cost them the Tri-Nations title, and they will be keen to underline their authority as the top team in the world following their 3-0 drubbing of Ireland.
This clash between the top two ranked teams in the world will fittingly kick things off in the new four-nation Rugby Championship which will now include Argentina for the first time.
After a disappointing season for Australia in Super Rugby Robbie Deans' side will be out to show that despite their lack of depth, their first choice team has the pedigree and the fight to take the All Blacks down at home.
The visitors have named a powerful side with lock Luke Romano and blindside flank Liam Messam the most notable selections in the forwards, as they plug the gaps left by Brad Thorn and the injured Jerome Kaino.
They will be up against a Wallaby pack that has veteran Nathan Sharpe standing in for skipper James Horwill in the second row, and they will feel that they have something to prove against their accomplished counterparts.
The Wallaby backline has the look of one that will be solid if unspectacular, as Deans has opted for the dependable Berrick Barnes outside scrumhalf Will Genia, with Anthony Faingaa and Rob Horne forming an equally stable midfield combination.
By contrast the All Black backline seems to have game-breakers throughout, with their centre pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu surrounded with dangerous runners and natural ball-players.
The All Blacks are chasing the same old result against Australia with a new coach after Steve Hansen replaced the World Cup-winning Graham Henry.
"Saturday's Bledisloe Cup contest brings two challenges," Hansen said.
"The first is our opponents, who we clearly respect. But just as important is the second challenge, which is about us being better than we were before."
Deans applauded the decision to decide the Bledisloe over three Tests in an end to years of the series involving two or four matches.
Australia and New Zealand clash in Auckland on August 25 in the return leg of the Rugby Championship before the final Bledisloe encounter in Brisbane on October 20.
"The good thing now is we have an uneven number of contests," Deans said."So we'll get clear resolution year to year."
Players to watch:
For Australia: Kurtley Beale is always dangerous when given space and he will pose the biggest attacking threat in the backline along with Digby Ioane who should look for plenty of work off his wing. Will Genia will look to take the pressure off Berrick Barnes by controlling matters at the base of the scrum where his Reds teammate Scott Higginbotham will look to assert his physical presence from. Up front Benn Robinson's performance at scrum-time will be key whilst Nathan Sharpe will need all of his experience in the line-outs.
For New Zealand: There is quality in just about every position but the focus in the backline will be on the midfield where Sonny Bill Williams and Ma'a Nonu will link up, but those around them such as Dan Carter and Israel Dagg could well have a bigger impact on the game. In the forward pack Kieran Read's inclusion after an injury break is a boost and the performance of Liam Messam at blindside flank will be watched with interest.
Head to head: The first and most obvious is between the captains, David Pocock and Richie McCaw at openside flank, but the duel between Scott Higginbotham and Kieran Read at No.8 could well upstage that. The selection of Berrick Barnes as Wallabies flyhalf means that he will be under pressure on his home ground to deliver the goods against Dan Carter who has proven himself the best in the business. The Wallaby midfield seems outgunned on paper and will have to show some guts but it will be fascinating to see which fullback has a bigger impact on the game as both Israel Dagg and Kurtley Beale are proven match-winners.
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
Prediction: the Wallabies will always be tough to beat on their home turf but the All Blacks have got too much quality and should take this one by about seven points.
Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Berrick Barnes, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 David Pocock (captain), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Michael Hooper, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Drew Mitchell.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.
Date: Saturday, August 18
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.00 (10.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny and breezy. 30 k/ph wind, high of 17 low of 7
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Matt Goddard (Australia)