Rugby Championship Preview-Australia vs New Zealand.

Australia and New Zealand kick off the third edition of the Rugby Championship in Sydney today with the Aussies looking to continue an impressive run of seven straight wins while the defending champions will be looking to get the defence of their title off to a good start.

Hooper vs McCaw

Without a win against their bitter rivals since 2011 Michael Hooper’s men go into tomorrow’s opener in confident mood after their best winning streak since 2000, the Waratahs’ Super 15 final win over Canterbury, and key players’ outstanding form.

New Zealand led by Ritchie McCaw will be looking to make it three consecutive Rugby Championship titles and eighteen straight wins-a world record, at the ANZ stadium.

Coach Ewen McKenzie has plumped for the magical Kurtley Beale at 10 who has been in outstanding form this year for the Waratahs. The 25 year-old has the ability to break the line and make something out of nothing and McKenzie will be hoping that Beale will be able to make inroads into the All Blacks tight defence.

And with the creative Matt Toomua outside him and the destructive Israel Folau at 15, the Aussies have the armoury to hurt the All Blacks.

While up front the Aussies are a decent unit with Sekope Kepu a key figure in their improved set-piece, athleticism in the second row,  the best 7 in the World in Michael Hooper, and the hard running Wycliff Palu at 8. While off the bench they have the find of the season Will Skelton-a 6ft 9in, 21st powerhouse, who takes some serious stopping.

But despite the improvement in their set-piece they are still vulnerable in this area as a strong scrummaging French pack proved this summer. With their two frontline hookers out as well, the All Blacks will be looking to target the Aussie scrum.

Shorn of the injured Dan Carter for the first couple of games, coach Steve Hansen has plumped for the creative Aaron Cruden who has shown since his assured display in the 2011 World Cup semi-final that he has the temperament to go with his undoubted ability.

Cruden will get his outstanding backline going and despite the loss of Conrad Smith at 13, they still have the likes of Nonu, Smith’s replacement the rising Malakai Fekitoa, Savea, Jane and the World’s best full-back Ben Smith.

The destructive Nonu and Fekitoa, allied with the pacy, powerful Savea and the elusive Smith, if given any space will cause the Aussies serious problems. And like the Aussies they have the ability to score from anywhere. Beale will have to make sure his kicking game is on the money.

Like their backline their pack oozes quality: from the rugged Franks and Crockett at one and three, the dynamic, ball playing Whitelock and Retallick in the second row, the powerful Jerome Kaino at 6, and the World’s best No8 Kieran Read. Not to mention a certain Ritchie McCaw at 8.

Outstanding in the loose, rock solid in the scrum, efficient at the lineout, and excellent at the breakdown, the All Black pack can do it all. But South Africa showed last year that if you have a go at them and play without fear they can be vulnerable, something which England also showed during the first test of their recent series down under.

Its going to be very tight but I’m going for the All Blacks to just edge it by virtue of their superior pack. I expect them to give the Aussies problems at the set-piece, edge the lineout battle, and gain parity at the breakdown. This edge up front should see them home.

New Zealand by 5.

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