SYDNEY - Australia aim to make a flying start against the All Blacks in Sydney this weekend and kick-start their quest to end New Zealand's 15 years of Bledisloe Cup domination, captain Michael Hooper said.
The Wallabies head into Saturday's fixture, which also doubles as the Rugby Championship opener, as underdogs after failing to win the trophy since 2002. The hosts have started the three-Test series poorly in recent years but Hooper said the Wallabies were fired-up and ready to show they are a team on the rise against the world champions.
"I'm going to come out all guns blazing," he told reporters. "We're ready, we're good to go... bring it on." Sydney has been a happy hunting ground for the New Zealanders in recent years, defeating Australia 42-8 in 2016 and 54-34 last year.
"We owe the Sydney crowd something," said utility back Matt Toomua, who will start on the bench. "Unfortunately we haven't done well here in a little while, so it's time to give them something to cheer about."
The Wallabies will take heart from their 23-18 win over the All Blacks in the final Bledisloe Test in Brisbane last October, which followed a narrow 35-29 loss in Dunedin two months earlier.
While Australia have not won back-to-back Test matches against New Zealand since 2001, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen insists they deserve to be favourites on the back of the Brisbane win.
"I think Australia are a better side than people give them credit for," he said, predicting "a good gutsy Test match". "They've improved a heck of a lot. They've done a lot of hard work on their running lines and their core set-piece roles, their scrum has got better and they've quickened up their line-out a lot."
Hansen said Australia were better prepared that their previous two Sydney outings after warming up with a trial match earlier this month. "I think it's a smart play. They'll be hoping they get out of the blocks a lot quicker," he said.
Cheika has been forced to throw loose-head prop Tom Robertson into the fray for just his third Test start after Scott Sio hurt his shoulder. He has also gambled on moving Reece Hodge into the centres after injuries to Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi, created an untested partnership with Kurtley Beale.
Hooper and wing Dane Haylett-Petty both passed fitness tests, with the skipper dismissing suggestions he could be rusty after being sidelined for more than a month. "I'm feeling great about what I do and I think I can make a difference in the game," he said.
The Wallabies also have inspirational flanker David Pocock contesting the breakdown after missing last year's Bledisloe while on sabbatical. The All Blacks have introduced their own rookie centre by calling up Jack Goodhue after injury ruled out Sonny Bill Williams.
But Goodhue will be playing alongside Canterbury Crusaders teammate Ryan Crotty in an established centres partnership that help win this year's Super Rugby title. Hansen described the combination as "rock-solid" and did not expect Goodhue to be overawed in his second Test appearance.
Kieran Read and Brodie Retallick, who missed the series against France in June, return to the side with Read resuming the captaincy. The New Zealanders will have added motivation when Sam Whitelock earns his 100th Test cap, the first All Black lock to reach the milestone.AFP