All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made the eye-catching claim that the Wallabies deserve favouritism for the Bledisloe Cup.
Hansen ignored 16 years of New Zealand dominance by declaring Michael Cheika’s team more than capable of reclaiming the trans-Tasman silverware in twin Tests this month.
His evidence is last year’s dead rubber third Test in Brisbane which Australia won 23-18 for just their second victory in the last 19 Bledisloe Cup Tests.
“We lost to Australia the last time we played them, so no doubt they’ll have a lot of self confidence and are worthy of starting as favourites,” said Hansen after naming a powerful All Blacks squad.
The theory, ahead of the opening Test in Sydney next week, defies Super Rugby form.
The Crusaders were dominant champions while four Kiwi teams finished with the best regular season records in the competition.
Australia’s only representatives in the play-offs were the Waratahs.
Hansen has boosted his 33-man squad from the one that swept France 3-0 by adding three accomplished forwards – fit-again captain Kieran Read, lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles.
The 109-Test No.8 Read and Coles haven’t played a Test since last November while Retallick’s absence dates back nearly a year.
While Read took part in the final weeks of the Crusaders’ charge to a ninth title, Coles hasn’t played at any level since rupturing knee ligaments.
He is still recuperating and will miss both opening Tests against Australia, along with inside centre Sonny Bill Williams (shoulder).
Three Hurricanes players have been dropped from the French series – midfield back Ngani Laumape, lock/flanker Vaea Fifita and prop Jeff Toomaga Allen.
Laumape and hooker Liam Coltman train with the squad as injury cover for Williams and Coles.
Prop Tim Perry, who missed the French series with injury, and third-ranked halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi are the only uncapped players.
“The selectors found this an incredibly difficult squad to select,” Hansen said.
“It has to be noted that there are some very good players who have not made the squad.
“One of the positives of having such a talented pool to select from is that it creates natural competition, That competition should remove any feelings of complacency within our playing group.”