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All Blacks named for first Bledisloe Test v Australia

The All Blacks team to play the eagerly-awaited opening Bledisoe Cup Test match of the Investec Rugby Championship this weekend has been named.
 
The key change is that Ben Smith has won the battle for the number 15 jersey, replacing Israel Dagg at fullback.
 
Kick off at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Saturday will be 10.05pm NZ time.
 
The team is: (with Test caps in brackets. * denotes uncapped player)
 
Starting XV

1. Wyatt Crockett (27)
2. Dane Coles (18)
3. Owen Franks (57)
4. Brodie Retallick (27)
5. Samuel Whitelock (54)
6. Jerome Kaino (51)
7. Richie McCaw (c) (127)
8. Kieran Read (62)
9. Aaron Smith (29)
10. Aaron Cruden (32)
11. Julian Savea (22)
12. Ma'a Nonu (91)
13. Conrad Smith (77)
14. Cory Jane (48)
15. Ben Smith (29)

Reserves:
16. Keven Mealamu (113)
17. Ben Franks (31)
18. Joe Moody *
19. Steven Luatua (11)
20. Sam Cane (14)
21. TJ Perenara (3)
22. Beauden Barrett (19)
23. Malakai Fekitoa (2)

The matchday 23 features the bulk of the players who played in the last Test of the Steinlager Series against England, with two changes in the starting XV: Wyatt Crockett is at loosehead prop, in for the injured Tony Woodcock, and Conrad Smith, who was injured at the time, is back at centre. Prop Joe Moody is also a chance to make his Test debut off the bench. 

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: "It was a tough team to select in many ways because we have a lot of players in good form. But in the end we selected the group that we felt could get the job done."

Hansen said, in some cases, the form of some players in their respective positions had been so good the selectors just couldn't ignore it.

"An example of that is Ben Smith. While we have been very happy with Israel Dagg's performances at 15, Ben has come in and raised the bar to another level. The challenge for Israel now is to get his performances - when he gets the opportunity - to an even higher level."

Hansen added: "We are really happy with our build-up and looking to put the finishing touches to our game over the next few days. The team is hugely excited at the challenge that awaits us this weekend.
"The Bledisloe Cup is an extremely important trophy for us all and there is a strong desire within the group to begin the Investec Rugby Championship on a positive note with a quality performance. We always enjoy playing Australia and this Test is no different."

One notable omission from the matchday 23 is loose forward Liam Messam.

"He had another heavy workload during the Investec Super Rugby campaign and we felt that giving him another week off would be the best thing. He will come back in contention for selection next week," Hansen explained.

Meanwhile, prop Charlie Faumuina was a late withdrawal from selection contention after coming down with an illness, while players not considered for selection due to injury were locks Dominic Bird and Patrick Tuipulotu and first five-eighth Daniel Carter.

The All Blacks fly into Sydney today (Thursday) for their final preparations. The following squad members will also be travelling to Sydney as cover for the matchday 23: backs Israel Dagg, Colin Slade and Tawera Kerr-Barlow; and forwards Jeremy Thrush, Nathan Harris and Kane Hames. Meanwhile, squad member Charles Piutau has been released to play ITM Cup for Auckland this weekend.

All Blacks - The Highlights
* Since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have played 31 Tests, with 29 wins, one draw and one loss, for a winning record of 95 percent.

* The All Blacks head in to the Investec Rugby Championship on the back of an unbeaten season last year and a three-Test Steinlager Series victory over England in June.

* The All Blacks have won The Rugby Championship for the past two years and held The Bledisloe Cup since 2003.

The Investec Rugby Championship - All Blacks Tests
1. Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8.05PM, Saturday 16 August)
2. Australia (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 23 August)
3. Argentina (McLean Park, Napier, 7.35PM, Saturday 6 September)
4. South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7.35PM, Saturday 13 September)
5. Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata, 7.10PM, Sat 27 September)
6. South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5.05PM, Saturday 4 October)
 
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