Aussies out to catch All Blacks
Sydney - The Rugby Championship could be in for an explosive start on Saturday when a New Zealand side boasting 874 caps collides with a Wallabies team under a new coach featuring plenty of fresh faces and committed to playing the "Australian way".
No one typifies the All Blacks way of playing the game more than Richie McCaw and the openside flank returns to captain the world champions at the Olympic Stadium for the first time since his six-month sabbatical.
Coach Steve Hansen is negotiating the difficult task of continuing to win at the rate expected of the All Blacks while bringing in new faces with an eye to the 2015 World Cup defence.
The retention of the likes of prop Tony Woodcock and hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu indicates the balance is still with the 2011 World Cup winners as they look to retain the title they won with six wins out of six last year.
Hansen expects a stiff challenge from the Australians in their first match under former test prop Ewen McKenzie, though.
"The Australians will front up," he told reporters on Thursday.
"There is a lot of emotion. A new coach and whenever that happens there seems to be an uplifting in confidence. So we will need to be on the job for the full 80 minutes to put our stamp on the game."
McKenzie has backed form over pedigree as he looks to start his reign on a positive note and embark on the quest of wresting the Bledisloe Cup back from the All Blacks for the first time in a decade.
The former Queensland coach has jettisoned Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper and put his faith in the uncapped Matt Toomua to direct the traffic in the Wallabies backline.
The 23-year-old is one of 10 Brumbies in the matchday squad - four more of them uncapped - and he will be expected to get plenty of ball out to the danger players in the back three - Israel Folau, James O'Connor and Jesse Mogg.
First, though, the Wallabies must win ball and McKenzie has selected a pack for a real dogfight at the breakdown with Hugh McMeniman winning his first cap for five years at blindside flanker and the equally abrasive lock Scott Fardy on the bench.
The tight five may be aided at the set scrum by the new rules on engagement, which should take out of the game the big hit with which All Blacks front rows of the past have intimidated the Wallabies.
Still, preventing the All Blacks from claiming their 100th test victory over Australia is a tough task, let alone for a team with the third test humbling by the British and Irish Lions still fresh in the memory.
The All Blacks back row may be slightly weakened by the late withdrawal of blindside Liam Messam because of a hamstring injury but Kieran Read and McCaw would be a handful on their own even without the addition of replacement Steven Luatua.
There may be no Dan Carter at flyhalf but Aaron Cruden has been busily making the case for himself as the heir apparent and the quality of backs like Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Israel Dagg and Julian Savea is unquestionable.
McKenzie has promised surprises from his untested team and even saw opportunity in Hansen naming his best side and not an "experimental" team.
"Those guys have been there and done that and the expectation is that they'll be comfortable," he said.
"We've got to go and take them on and hopefully that will bring the best out in us."Teams:Australia:
15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Israel Folau, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper,
12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Will Genia, 8 Ben
Mowen, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Rod
Simmons, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 James Slipper
16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Scott Fardy, 20 Liam
Gill, 21 Nic White, 22 Quade Cooper, 23 Tevita Kuridrani
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a
Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw
(captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks,
2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 even Mealamu, 17 Ben
Franks, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Brodie Retallick, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera
Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Ryan Crotty