This game sees the start of the 2017 Rugby Championship, played between the four major southern hemisphere teams
Sonny Bill Williams returns to the New Zealand starting line-up for Saturday’s Rugby Championship opener against Australia. Williams, who was red-carded in the second Test of the British and Irish Lions series, completed his four-game suspension earlier this month and returns to the All Blacks midfield. Damian McKenzie and Liam Squire were the surprise selections in Steve Hansen’s match-day 23, the New Zealand coach making six changes to the team that drew the third Test against the Lions. Five of those come in the backs with McKenzie selected at full-back. Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane are named on the wing while Crotty partners Williams at centre.
New Zealand are seeking a fourth successive Rugby Championship title while they have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003.
This may not be a vintage New Zealand team yet but they are undoubtedly favourites to win another rugby championship despite ongoing transitions at several positions in the team.
What is clear from the latest Australian squad is that coach Mchael cheika is keen to bring a freshness to the side, and has handed out squad call-ups to 11 uncapped players, seven of whom have never experienced a squad call-up at all. Some experienced players such as Cooper and Hgginbotham have been discarded too
The 2017 Super Rugby campaign has been a tough one for the Australian franchises.
For the first time in history, the Australian sides failed to pick up a single victory over a New Zealand franchise during a regular-Super Rugby campaign, losing all 25 games.
Against the South African sides, who have not been at their strongest either they lost ten times only picking up four victories, while they also lost more times against the Jaguares than they won: losing three times and winning twice.
Out of a total of 45 fixtures against the Kiwi, South African and Argentinian sides, the five Australian franchises won six, drew once and lost 38, yielding a meagre 7.5% win percentage.
Added to this, Australia lost to a Scotland side in Sydney minus Stuart Hogg, Greig Laidlaw and Tommy Seymour in June.
Cheika can still call on the talent of Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Dane Haylett-Petty, Will Genia, Bernard Foley and Stephen Moore.
Since losing the 2015 World Cup final to New Zealand, Australia have won fewer than half of their Tests. This upcoming Rugby Championship is pivotal for Cheika’s team and could go some way to determining the direction Australian rugby will take over the next few years.
New Zealand understandably are prohibitive favourites for this game at 1/9 outright, Australia6/1. Australia are 16 point handicap underdogs at 10/11 generally.
My idea of a bet here is in the winning margin market, where New Zealand can be backed to win by 11-20 points at 11/4 with Betfair Sportsbook and 12/5 with Coral.