The stage is set for the first of three Bledisloe Cup matches to be played this month after New Zealand and Australia each announced their teams for the opening Test this Saturday.
The Wallabies will play the first two Tests back-to-back at Auckland’s Eden Park—where they haven’t won since 1986—after Covid-19 protocols forced the hosts to alter their schedule.
Quade Cooper was a surprise inclusion in Australia’s squad, leading to murmurs the out-half would feature on Saturday despite winning the most recent of his 70 caps in June 2017.
At 33, Cooper—currently playing for Kintetsu Liners in Japan—is the oldest member of Dave Rennie’s squad, with only captain Michael Hooper (108) and James Slipper (103) boasting more caps.
But the coach has stuck with a more youthful pairing in the half-back positions as Tate McDermott and Noah Lolesio retain the No. 9 and No. 10 jerseys, respectively.
That duo post a combined age of just 43 and are seeking further success after guiding the Wallabies to a hard-fought series win over France earlier this summer.
As expected, there are no places in the Wallabies squad for Marika Koroibete, Isi Naisarani or Pone Fa’amausili after they were suspended for breaching team rules in a late-night drinking session.
Queensland Reds prospect Harry Wilson will make his ninth Wallabies appearance as a replacement for Naisarani at No. 8.
Koroibete’s Melbourne Rebels team-mate, Andrew Kellaway, will also make his first Test start on the left wing, with Jordan Petaia on the other flank and Tom Banks named at full-back.
Rennie’s starting backline boasts just 45 international caps between them—an average of just under seven caps apiece—while two of their All Blacks counterparts beat that tally individually.
Aaron Smith in particular eclipses that figure two times over as he prepares for his 100th New Zealand cap, set to become only the 10th All Black to achieve the feat (and the first scrum-half to do so).
Centre Anton Lienert-Brown is the other back with more experience than Australia’s back corps as he approaches his 51st international appearance.
Fly-half Beauden Barrett is a notable absence from the XV as coach Ian Foster prefers Richie Mo’unga to start at Eden Park, having led Crusaders to another Super Rugby Aotearoa title in May.
Three Barrett brothers will start Saturday’s Test on the bench in total, with versatile back Jordie and lock option Scott each likely to enter the fray at some point.
Winger Will Jordan is one absence worth highlighting as he makes his way back from a hamstring injury, although Rieko Ioane and Sevu Reece are no slouches in that department.
New Zealand have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003 but lost their last encounter with Australia when the teams last met in Brisbane last November.
Foster encouraged his side to go out and earn their defence of the title and said: ”There is huge excitement in our group at what lies ahead this weekend. There is such a huge history with the Bledisloe Cup, the rivalry between the All Blacks and Australia goes back a long, long way, and it's always a massive contest.
“The Cup isn't ours; we have to go out and win it again. We can't wait for the weekend."
All Blacks XV: (Forwards) George Bower, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock (c), Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea; (Backs) Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Rieko Ioane, David Havili, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sevu Reece, Damian McKenzie
Reps: Dane Coles, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Angus Ta’avao, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Jordie Barrett
Wallabies XV: (Forwards) James Slipper, Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Allan Alaalatoa, Darcy Swain, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Rob Valetini, Michael Hooper (c), Harry Wilson; (Backs) Tate McDermott, Noah Lolesio, Andrew Kellaway, Hunter Paisami, Len Ikitau, Jordan Petaia, Tom Banks
Reps: Jordan Uelese, Angus Bell, Taniela Tupou, Matt Philip, Fraser McReight, Jake Gordon, Matt To’omua, Reece Hodge
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