The All Blacks team to play Australia in the opening Rugby Championship match at ANZ Stadium, Sydney, on Saturday 18 August has been named.
The team is as follows: (with Test caps in brackets)
1. Tony Woodcock (86)
2. Keven Mealamu (93)
3. Owen Franks (34)
4. Luke Romano (1)
5. Samuel Whitelock (28)
6. Liam Messam (10)
7. Richie McCaw - captain (106)
8. Kieran Read (38)
9. Aaron Smith (3)
10. Daniel Carter (87)
11. Hosea Gear (9)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (17)
13. Ma’a Nonu (66)
14. Cory Jane (31)
15. Israel Dagg (15)
16. Andrew Hore (65)
17. Ben Franks (18)
18. Brodie Retallick (3)
19. Victor Vito (14)
20. Piri Weepu (59)
21. Aaron Cruden (11)
22. Ben Smith (5)
In the starting XV, the front row features the most capped All Blacks prop and hooker of all time in Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, alongside Owen Franks, while Sam Whitelock links with Luke Romano in the second row. In the loose forwards, Liam Messam is again at blindside flanker, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw is back at openside after playing number eight in his last All Blacks outing, with Kieran Read returning to the eight jersey.
In the backs, halfback Aaron Smith combines with returning first five-eighth and All Blacks Vice-Captain Daniel Carter; in the midfield Ma’a Nonu comes in for the injured Conrad Smith at centre, with Sonny Bill Williams at second five-eighth. Cory Jane returns to the right wing, Hosea Gear is on the left and Israel Dagg is fullback.
All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup contest brings two challenges. 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. The expectation this All Blacks team has is that it will strive to achieve these goals, both individually and collectively as a team.”
A squad of 24 will travel to Sydney this afternoon for Saturday’s Test match, with Charlie Faumuina and Adam Thomson travelling with the match day 22. All Blacks squad members Wyatt Crockett, Tamati Ellison, Sam Cane and Julian Savea will remain in New Zealand. The All Blacks return to Auckland on Sunday to prepare for the return Bledisloe Cup match at Eden Park on Saturday 25 August.
• The All Blacks last played Australia in the semifinal of last year’s Rugby World Cup with the All Blacks winning 20-6. The teams last played in Sydney in September 2010 with the All Blacks snatching a 23-22 win on that occasion.
• The All Blacks have played Australia 143 times since 1903, with 97 wins to the All Blacks, 41 to Australia and five draws.
• Piri Weepu looks set to play his 60th Test match off the bench this weekend - joining Jeff Wilson and Craig Dowd on that milestone.
• Daniel Carter is the world’s highest points scorer in Test rugby with 1284 points, and the highest point scorer against Australia with 270 points.
• Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu (together with Ian Kirkpatrick, Christian Cullen and Doug Howlett), have scored the most Test tries against Australia - eight each.