The All Blacks will hope to achieve consecutive clean sweeps of their Rugby Championship rivals this year, starting against the Wallabies.
Indeed, the bar was set incredibly high by New Zealand in 2016 as they picked up a maximum 30 from 30 points haul from their six fixtures.
Of course they cannot better that and repeating it would take some doing but there are many who think it could happen, due largely to the standard of opposition in their way. Argentina and Australia have been in poor form while South Africa’s revival is hardly scintillating.
On paper six wins from six is a possibility but this is not a New Zealand team full of confidence, far from it following the recent drawn Test series with the British & Irish Lions. Whether that’s rocked their confidence or we’re in for a backlash will be evident on Saturday.
They face a side in turmoil at Super Rugby level, which adds a further subplot to the action in Sydney. Several of the Wallabies’ futures remain unclear after the Force were axed and following a dismal season for all five franchises, they simply have to rally in Test colours.
The form book doesn’t look good too for Australia as the All Blacks have won their last five matches against them, the last time they won more was a 10-game streak from 2008 to 2010. Furthermore, last year’s fixture in Sydney saw New Zealand romp to an emphatic 42-8 victory.
Australia simply must start strongly if they’re to avoid another embarrassment such as that, but with the Wallabies having scored no more than a penalty goal in the first-half of each of their last three games at ANZ Stadium, the omens don’t bode well for the hosts this week.
It will surely be a comfortable victory for the All Blacks, who are boosted by six recent Super Rugby winners in their side with two more Crusaders on the bench. That would give them a huge leg-up in their quest to retain both the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship titles, something which they are hot favourites to do as coach Steve Hansen rolls out a side that could cut loose if given a sniff this weekend.
Players to watch:
For Australia: While Karmichael Hunt was performing admirably in the 12 jersey before injury struck, the return of Kurtley Beale to this Wallaby side could give them an extra weapon in attack. His form for Wasps last season was excellent and if he can send Samu Kerevi into positions that will see him crash over the advantage line, Australia will have chances to score tries. Two other players we’re keeping a close eye on are number eight Sean McMahon and second-row Adam Coleman, who have plenty of potential as long-term options for Australia.
For New Zealand: What an opportunity this is for Damian McKenzie. Some might say it’s been too long in coming but getting in ahead of Ben Smith and Jordie Barrett was always going to be hard. Now, with Smith soon set for a sabbatical and Barrett out injured, he has the chance to make the 15 jersey his own. Out on his own in the running statistics this past Super Rugby season, Australia need to contain this star.
Head-to-head: Blindside flanker Ned Hanigan has made a promising start to his international career and his battle with Liam Squire is one we will be watching with interest. Squire is in ahead of Jerome Kaino at six and is clearly well liked by Steve Hansen, with his dynamism and speed with ball in hand one of his main assets. Hanigan is also busy around the park and if these two see plenty of ball that’ll be a sign of an expansive and exciting game, which is great news for spectators. Kurtley Beale up against the returning SBW is also intriguing.
2016: New Zealand won 37-10 in Auckland
2016: New Zealand won 29-09 in Wellington
2016: New Zealand won 42-08 in Sydney
2015: New Zealand won 34-17 at Twickenham
2015: New Zealand won 41-13 in Auckland
2015: Australia won 27-19 in Sydney
2014: New Zealand won 29-28 in Brisbane
2014: New Zealand won 51-20 in Auckland
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 (c), 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 (c), 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 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
Date: Saturday, August 19
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20:00 local (10:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Andy Brace (Ireland)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)