Australia have ended lengthy New Zealand winning streaks twice in the last four years. Photo by: Marty Melville/AFP

Sydney - Australia have ended lengthy New Zealand winning streaks twice in the last four years and this weekend it is again the Wallabies who stand in the path of what would be the longest the top tier of the game has ever seen.

The All Blacks go into Saturday's Rugby Championship opener at Sydney's Olympic Stadium (kickoff 1005 GMT) as unquestionably the world's best team with 17 consecutive test victories behind them.

An 18th straight triumph to kickstart what New Zealand hopes will be a third successive southern hemisphere title would allow them to surpass the feat achieved by the 1965-69 All Blacks and South Africa side of 1997-98 and claim the record outright.

The All Blacks were on a run of 15 wins when the Wallabies beat them in Hong Kong in 2010, though, and had managed 16 in a row when the injury-ravaged Australians, 7-1 outsiders in a two-horse race, earned an 18-18 draw in Brisbane in 2012.

However, as any modern sportsman will tell you, records are achievements to be admired after retirement and both New Zealand and Australia are resolutely focused on the 80 minutes immediately ahead of them.

Such is New Zealand's grip on the international game, Australia would welcome any victory, whatever its implications, over their trans-Tasman rivals.

It has been 12 years since the Australians last held the Bledisloe Cup the countries compete for over the two Rugby Championship tests - the second is in Auckland next week - and a third match later in the year.

Ewen McKenzie, who lost three times to the All Blacks in his maiden season as coach last year, sprung a major surprise by naming Kurtley Beale as his flyhalf in a gamble his opposite number Steve Hansen described as dumbfounding.

Hansen expects the Wallabies to try and run the All Blacks off the park but indicated by putting Ben Smith at fullback in place of Israel Dagg that the ability to run the ball rather than put boot to leather is just as important to his gameplan.

The Wallabies have built a seven-match winning streak of their own and will have been boosted by a superb season for Australian teams in Super Rugby, which ended with the New South Wales Waratahs claiming the title.

As always in modern rugby, the breakdown will be crucial to deciding who wins the match, while the strength of the replacements benches will be key if the score is close in the last quarter.

Australian fans will be counting the minutes until hulking young lock Will Skelton comes on, but it could be Waratahs' flyhalf Bernard Foley, omitted for Beale despite his superior place-kicking, who has the final say.


Australia: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Pat McCabe, 13-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12-Matt Toomua, 11-Rob Horne, 10-Kurtley Beale, 9-Nic White, 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Scott Fardy, 5-Rob Simmons, 4-Sam Carter, 3-Sekope Kepu, 2-Nathan Charles, 1-James Slipper

Replacements: 16-James Hanson, 17-Pek Cowan, 18-Ben Alexander, 19-Will Skelton, 20-Scott Higginbotham, 21-Nick Phipps, 22-Bernard Foley, 23-Tevita Kuridrani.

New Zealand: 15-Ben Smith, 14-Cory Jane, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Ma'a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Jerome Kaino, 5-Samuel Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Wyatt Crockett

Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Ben Franks, 18-Joe Moody, 19-Steven Luatua, 20-Sam Cane, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Beauden Barrett, 23-Malakai Fekitoa.

Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa) – Reuters