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Australia v New Zealand: Everything you need to know

18 August 2017 12:41

Sonny Bill Williams is raring to go as he prepares to make his New Zealand return against Australia in Saturday's Rugby Championship opener.

The exciting centre's last international outing ended early as he was sent off for a shoulder charge to the head of Anthony Watson in the first half of the All Blacks' second-Test defeat to the British and Irish Lions in July.

That dismissal meant he missed the series-ending draw through suspension, and Williams is desperate to make up for lost time when the world champions face the Wallabies in their Bledisloe Cup meeting in Sydney.

"You've been out for a while, you get back into the fold and sometimes you're a little bit too eager," he said in a media conference. "You have to try to keep a lid on things but hopefully I'll explode on Saturday."

It has been a testing week for the visitors, after their governing body announced it would investigate claims Aaron Smith misled a disciplinary case last year, while the security guard at the heart of the "bug-gate" scandal - where it was alleged a listening device was found at the All Blacks' hotel prior to facing Australia in Sydney 12 months ago - was cleared of a charge of public mischief at a magistrate's court.

As for the Wallabies, who have lost each of their last five meetings with their neighbours, NRL convert Curtis Rona makes his debut on the wing and Kurtley Beale returns to the centre for his first appearance since the 2015 World Cup final.

New Zealand triumphed on that occasion to successfully defend the Webb Ellis Trophy, and Steve Hansen's side - who feature Damian McKenzie as a surprise starter at full-back - are favourites to retain their Rugby Championship title.

 

HEAD TO HEAD

Australia: 48
New Zealand:127
Draw: 7

 

KEY PLAYERS

Kurtley Beale (Australia)

Having spent the 2016-17 with Wasps in the Premiership, Beale has earned a Wallabies recall and will be expected to be at the forefront of the hosts' attacking play, along with full-back Israel Folau.

"You grow that extra leg when you know you have him beside you," Folau said of Beale. "He brings a lot more confidence to your game and it's exciting. Guys like KB, they don't come around too often. You want to try and make the most of playing alongside him and he's a special player."

Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)

The midfield battle between Beale and Samu Kerevi, and Williams and Ryan Crotty could prove pivotal in deciding the outcome of Saturday's clash.

Williams is positively bursting to get at the Wallabies, but it was that over zealous approach that cut short his participation in the Lions series. The All Blacks will need the centre to retain his discipline if they are to prosper at ANZ Stadium.

 

THE LINE-UPS

Australia: Israel Folau, Henry Speight, Samu Kerevi, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, Will Genia; Scott Sio, Stephen Moore, Allan Alaalatoa, Rory Arnold, Adam Coleman, Ned Hanigan, Michael Hooper, Sean McMahon.

New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Sam Cane, Kieran Read.

 

PRE-MATCH TALK

Kurtley Beale (Australia): You're stupid if you're not looking for Izzy [Folau]. He's been incredible in the June series. He's been on fire, so for me I don't look to overdo it. We've got a good understanding of what we want from each other and we don't think about it too much, that's the best thing about it. It makes the job a lot easier when you're out there on the field."

Brodie Retallick (New Zealand): "Obviously I've been lucky enough to play with Damian [McKenzie] for a couple of seasons at the Chiefs and see what he can do. I'm normally cleaning out the rucks and he's carrying and sometimes I don't know why he's running there but he seems to pop out the other side so he's more than capable of playing Test footy. I know it sort of blind-sided him when he got named to start so he might be a little bit nervous but he's definitely got the capability to go out there and perform."

 

OPTA STATS

- New Zealand posted a 42-8 win against Australia when they last met at ANZ Stadium, the biggest win in the history of the fixture at that venue (16 games).
- The Wallabies have scored no more than a penalty goal in the opening half of each of their last three games at ANZ Stadium, trailing at half-time in each match, though they’ve gone on to earn a win and a draw in that period (L1).
- The All Blacks have lost only one of their last seven games within Australia (W4, D2), and will be looking to win consecutive fixtures on Australian soil for the first time since winning four on the trot from 2008 to 2010.
- New Zealand haven’t lost a scrum on their own feed in any of their last four Tests (34/34), and have lost just three of 76 scrums overall in their last 11 Tests.

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