SYDNEY - Amid speculation that Beauden Barrett's place in the All Blacks side could be under threat, the flyhalf will find himself under increased scrutiny on Saturday when they face Australia in the Rugby Championship opener in Sydney.
While Barrett had a below-par season with the Wellington Hurricanes, Richie Mo'unga was in superb form for the Canterbury Crusaders as they won their ninth Super Rugby title. Mo'unga's performances sparked debate in New Zealand as to whether he should replace Barrett for Saturday's match (kickoff 1005 GMT), but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has kept faith with the two-times world player of the year.
Mo'unga did not even make it to the bench for the test which also doubles as the opening game of the Bledisloe Cup series. While Hansen has been able to name arguably his strongest side, he was forced to make a late change after replacement prop Ofa Tuungafasi was ruled out with a rib injury and Tim Perry moved on to the bench. Captain Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick return after not having played for the world champions since last year and add increased physicality to the pack.
"It's exciting having someone of Kieran's ability in the lineout, his ball-carrying strength, and under pressure he's been there and done that," said Hansen. "It's a massive asset to have him, and you can chuck Guzzler (Retallick) in there as well, and probably Sam Cane who didn't have a big French series. Those three guys give us a little more starch."
That "starch" should test Michael Cheika's Wallabies, who struggled in the forwards against Six Nations champions Ireland in June and were starved of ball in the 2-1 series loss. They will need to at least match the world champions in the forwards if they are to have any hope of wresting back the Bledisloe Cup from the All Blacks, who have held the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby supremacy since 2003.