Wellington on Sunday afternoon will end eight months of disruption for the Test rugby world, and the first post-World Cup international in the southern hemisphere has an unprecedented level of interest as a result of the Covid pandemic.
Adding to the interest is the usual introduction of new talent in the wake of Rugby World Cup campaigns.
Both sides are looking to introduce new players who have the potential to shape future seasons.
CENTRES OF ATTENTION
Rieko Ioane's has made his desire to play centre known for some time. After a strong showing in the Blues backline this year he has forced his way into the role and will be contesting the role with another tyro Hunter Paisami, who also had a strong Super Rugby season with the Reds. Both are attackers by instinct and their contest, on attack and defence, should be one of the more intriguing parts of the Test season opener. Ioane has shown not only the speed to capitalise on chances but also create opportunities for those outside him. Again, the ability of either to shine will be decided by the quality of ball they receive and how quickly defences can be broken down.
Having gained the nod to start at first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga will have had a shot of confidence that should set him up for a fascinating contest with James O'Connor. While no one in New Zealand would ever take O'Connor's threat lightly given his performances against the All Blacks in the past, and following his play with the Reds this year, but it is eight seasons since he last played first five-eighths at Test level. Mo'unga showed his touches of class during Super Rugby Aotearoa, several times lifting the Crusaders at vital stages of games. Again, this shapes as another crucial battle determining the outcome.
BEHIND THE NO.8 BALL
All Blacks No8 Ardie Savea has only recently played his international rugby off the back of the scrum, but he showed his ability to handle the role with aplomb in Super Rugby Aotearoa. Stopping him making thunderous runs off the back of the scrum will be an issue, although dependent upon the rest of the pack giving him the platform to probe. His marker, Pete Samu knows what Savea is capable of having been so closely involved with New Zealand events during his Crusaders stint. However, Samu brings his qualities to the contest where he is capable of putting plenty of pressure on the New Zealand defence.
Wallabies lock Matt Philip knows all about New Zealand rugby having played 10 games for Southland and he will know that challenge that awaits him and fellow lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. They have played three and 16 Tests respectively and face a formidable combination of Sam Whitelock (117 Tests) and Patrick Tuipulotu (30). The only worse disparity could have been if Brodie Retallick had been available. With seasoned players around them the New Zealand pair should be well-placed to take the contest to the Australians and how they respond could go a long way towards providing the quality ball both backlines will need.
Limited tickets are still available to the opening Bledisloe Cup Test HERE.
The teams are:
1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu, 5.Samuel Whitelock, 6.Shannon Frizell, 7.Sam Cane (captain), 8.Ardie Savea, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Jack Goodhue, 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Jordie Barrett, 15.Damian McKenzie.
Substitutes: 16.Dane Coles, 17.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18.Nepo Laulala, 19.Tupou Vaa'i, 20.Hoskins Sotutu, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Anton Lienert-Brown, 23.Caleb Clarke.
1.James Slipper, 2.Folau Fainga'a, 3.Taniela Tupou, 4.Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5.Matt Philip, 6.Harry Wilson, 7.Michael Hooper (captain), 8.Pete Samu, 9.Nic White, 10.James O'Connor, 11.Marika Koroibete, 12.Matt To'omua, 13.Hunter Paisami, 14.Filipo Daugunu, 15.Tom Banks.
Substitutes: 16.Jordan Uelese, 17.Scott Sio, 18.Allan Alaalatoa, 19.Rob Simmons, 20.Rob Valetini, 21.Jake Gordon, 22.Noah Lolesio, 23.Reece Hodge.