All Blacks zero in on record wins against Wallabies
New Zealand fullback Ben Smith kicks the ball during the team's Captain's Run in Sydney on August 15, 2014 - by William West
The New Zealanders, following a 36-13 victory over England in their last match, are equal with the 17-Test winning runs of the 1965-69 All Blacks and 1997-98 Springboks.
The all-conquering Kiwis have not tasted defeat since going down to England at Twickenham in December 2012, and have not lost a match in the two four-nation Rugby Championship seasons, which also includes South Africa and Argentina.
What adds spice to this weekend's tournament kick-off is that the Wallabies are sensing their time has come after 11 years without the Bledisloe Cup, a symbol of trans-Tasman supremacy.
The New South Wales Waratahs have given Wallaby supporters optimism with their thrilling 33-32 victory over New Zealand champions Canterbury Crusaders in this month's Super Rugby final.
The Australians, under coach Ewen McKenzie, have also won their last seven Tests, including sweeping their three-Test series against France in June.
It all adds to an intriguing scenario for the opening match of the Rugby Championship, a year out from the World Cup in England.
"The Bledisloe's the biggest cup we play for outside the World Cup, so winning this first one is important to give you a good start towards holding it," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Thursday.
"We're not approaching this Test any differently because it's 18, it's just about winning."
McKenzie said there was every reason for Australia to believe that a slice of history could be within their reach against the world champions.
"There's no mortgage on these sorts of things," he said.
"They've obviously dominated for a period of time and they're not going to hand it over. We've got to go out there and win it. We've got to get everything right."
- 'Bold selections' -
McKenzie, who took over from Robbie Deans in the wake of Australia's home series loss to the British and Irish Lions last year, has made some big selection calls for the crunch game on Saturday.
He preferred the creative Kurtley Beale at fly-half to his Waratahs teammate Bernard Foley, and left out former Wallabies' skipper and lock James Horwill from his match-day 23-man squad.
"We've made what some people might consider bold selections. I think they're good selections for what we want to do," McKenzie said.
"Kurtley will bring some additional x-factor to our game. We feel that will suit our two-playmaker framework and ensure we have the right balance in those positions along with Matt Toomua.
"Against the All Blacks, you've got to go out there and have a crack ... we need to take a few risks."
Hansen has given the nod to Ben Smith as the All Blacks first-choice full-back ahead of World Cup winner Israel Dagg.
Dagg failed to even make the squad as Hansen stuck with the line-up that completed a 3-0 whitewash against England in June.
The run-on side features an injury-related change from the third England Test, with Wyatt Crockett in at loose-head prop for the sidelined Tony Woodcock.
"While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level," Hansen said.
"The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances -- when he gets the opportunity -- to an even higher level.
"Australia are naturally going to play a fast game... we're anticipating with the side they've selected that Australia are going to take us on in the backs and run us around a bit, so we'll embrace that and play our own game.
"First and foremost we've got to go out and achieve some sort of domination so that we can control the game."
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