Preview: Australia v New Zealand
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: The All Blacks will be out to reassert their dominance as the wounded Wallabies look to the return of Kurtley Beale to trigger an upset.
The world champions have been reviewing what went wrong in their unexpected series draw with the British and Irish Lions at home last month and are hell-bent on rebounding against the Australians in Sydney on Saturday.
The Lions defied the odds to down the All Blacks 24-21 in Wellington to take their series to a decider only for the final Auckland match to end in a 15-all stalemate.
That inability to put away the Lions raised doubts whether the All Blacks' era of dominance was on the wane after they were shocked by Ireland 40-29 in Chicago last November.
The All Blacks have dominated the Wallabies - losing only three of their last 29 Trans-Tasman encounters - and are expected to do it again as Australian rugby looks to emerge from a woeful season.
Sonny Bill Williams returns for the New Zealanders after serving his four-match suspension, while Jerome Kaino has been dropped for the Olympic stadium Test.
In a revamped line-up with six changes from the last Test side against the Lions, only halves Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith remain from the starting backline, while Damian McKenzie gets his chance at fullback.
Double World Cup winner Williams has not played for seven weeks since being suspended for a dangerous shoulder charge and a straight red card in the second Test against the Lions.
"We reviewed that [Lions] series comprehensively, and the management have done a lot on it as well," All Blacks skipper Kieran Read said.
"Hopefully, it will show in this championship what we've learned."
At stake against the Wallabies are not only points in the Rugby Championship, which also includes South Africa and Argentina, but also the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of Trans-Tasman rugby supremacy.
It has been firmly in New Zealand hands since 2003 and over the past 14 years the All Blacks and Wallabies have played each other 42 times with New Zealand winning 33, drawing two and losing seven.
"This Test will give us a great opportunity to gauge where we are at when comes to things we have been working on since the Lions tour," coach Steve Hansen said.
The pressure is on coach Michael Cheika and his Wallabies after their shock home loss to Scotland in June and coming off a dreadful Super Rugby season where Australian sides were 0-26 against Kiwi opposition.
The return of inside back Beale for his first Test since the World Cup final with New Zealand at Twickenham on October 30, 2015, is seen as a boost for the ailing Aussies.
Beale, who now plays for London Wasps, has an extraordinary record against the All Blacks in Australia with two wins, two draws and a single defeat in five Tests since 2011.
Playmaker Beale will be starting with other Wallaby king-pins Israel Folau and Bernard Foley for the first time, despite being Test mainstays for most of their careers.
There is also mounting pressure on Cheika, who like most recent Australia coaches, has a losing record against the All Blacks - just one win from six - among an overall 56 percent success rate.
Players to watch:
For Australia: You will always get excited about the aerial and attacking skills of Israel Folau, the power of Henry Speight and powerful Samu Kerevi. However, the key - apart from how the tight forwards perform - is the inside backs combinations of Kurtley Beale and Bernard Foley.
For New Zealand: No doubt it is with great expectation that we look forward to see how fullback Damian McKenzie performs on the international stage. The return of Sonny Bill Williams will also create great excitement. Beauden Barrett will always entertain, but will he take the goal-kicking - the one weakness in his game? Will Aaron Smith overcome the off-field distractions?
Head to head: The amazing skills on show at fullback - Israel Folau (Australia) against Damian McKenzie (New Zealand) - is wort the entry fee alone. And the same goes for the guile of the two inside centres - Kurtley Beale (Australia) and Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand).Of course it all starts among the forwards - especially the set pieves - where Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Allan Alaalatoa, Stephen Moore and Scott Sio (Australia) will go up against Samuel Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody (New Zealand).
2016: New Zealand won 37-10, Auckland
2016: New Zealand won 29-9, Wellington
2016: New Zealand won 42-8, Sydney
2015: New Zealand won 34-17, London (World Cup Final)
2015: New Zealand won 41-13, Auckland
2015: Australia won 27-19, Sydney
2014: New Zealand won 29-28, Brisbane
2014: New Zealand won 51-20, Auckland
2014: Australia and New Zealand drew 12-all, Sydney
2013: New Zealand won 41-33, Dunedin
Prediction: The All Blacks have won their last five games against the Wallabies, the last time they won more was a 10-game streak from 2008 to 2010. New Zealand posted a 42-8 win against Australia when they last met at ANZ Stadium, the biggest win in the history of the fixture at that venue (16 games). The Wallabies have scored no more than a penalty goal in the opening half of each of their last three games at ANZ Stadium, trailing at halftime in each match, though they've gone on to earn a win and a draw in that period. The All Blacks have lost only one of their last seven games within Australia, and will be looking to win consecutive fixtures on Australian soil for the first time since winning four on the trot from 2008 to 2010. Australia scored five tries in the opening 20 minutes of games in last year's edition of the tournament, more than any other team and the Wallabies' most in any quarter. New Zealand haven't lost a scrum on their own feed in any of their last four Tests (34/34), and have lost just three of 76 scrums overall in their last 11 Tests. Tatafu Polota-Nau has made 44 appearances off the bench for the Wallabies, and his next will make him the most capped player off the bench in Australia's history, eclipsing James Slipper (44). Ben Smith has scored 16 tries from 23 fixture at The Rugby Championship, the equal third most of any player in the history of the competition while only one All Black (Richie McCaw, 17) has scored more. Michael Hooper made 72 tackles at the 2016 edition, seven more than any other player in the competition. Beauden Barrett high-scored with a haul of 81 points in the 2016 iteration of The Rugby Championship, 28 more than next-best Bernard Foley and Nicolas Sanchez. The last time the Australian media pulled out the off-field distraction stunts they produced this week, New Zealand gave their team a record hiding. Forget about what happened in yje Britosh and Irish Lions series, this All Black team has yoo much class and will bounce back. New Zealand to win by 15 points ... at least.
Australia: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Will Genia, 8 Sean McMahon, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 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.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Date: Saturday, August 19
Venue: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Kick-off: 20.00 (22.00 NZ time; 10.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy. Slight (20 percent) chance of a shower. Winds southwesterly 25 to 40 km/h. High of 16°C, low of 9°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Andy Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com