All Blacks start Williams, McKenzie

New Zealand have named their side to face Australia in the Rugby Championship opener, with Sonny Bill Williams and Damian McKenzie starting.

Williams returns to the matchday 23 at 12 inside Ryan Crotty, while in the outside backs McKenzie starts at full-back in his third Test, with Ben Smith and Rieko Ioane on the wings. Anton Lienert-Brown provides additional back cover.

The matchday 23 features the starting front row of 94-Test veteran Owen Franks, fellow prop Joe Moody and hooker Codie Taylor, with Nathan Harris, Wyatt Crockett and Ofa Tu'ungafasi the cover.

The experienced locking combination of Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick will pair up for their 44th start together, with Luke Romano providing impact off the bench.

In the loose forwards, Liam Squire comes into the matchday 23 in the number six jersey for his fourth Test start, alongside openside Sam Cane and All Blacks captain Kieran Read, with Ardie Savea named as loose forward cover.

In the backs, Aaron Smith will start alongside Beauden Barrett. TJ Perenara and Lima Sopoaga are the inside backs run on reserves.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said: "There's a real sense of excitement within the group and a desire to go out and perform well this weekend. This Test will give us a great opportunity to gauge where we are at when it comes to things we have been working on since the Lions Tour.

"We've had a great build-up here in Sydney and there's a single-minded focus. We're playing for our most significant trophy outside of the Rugby World Cup and it means a lot to us as a team As always, it's going to be a massive occasion and we're looking forward to Saturday."

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown

Date: Saturday, August 19
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 20:00 local (10:00 GMT)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Andy Brace (Ireland)
Television match official: Rowan Kitt (England)

Hooper dismisses 'unfit Wallabies' rumours

Australia captain Michael Hooper has dismissed rumours that his squad is out of form and unfit going into the Rugby Championship opener against the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday.

Only one Australian team made it to the quarter-finals of Super Rugby this season, therefore a large chunk of the Wallabies squad has not played competitively for quite some time.

Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika held training camps with his squad in Newcastle and Cessnock. The focus was to get the team fit and match ready for the All Blacks, who had four teams in the quarter-finals with the Crusaders going on to win the title.

Hooper, the now full-time skipper in place of Stephen Moore, is pleased with the progress his team has made going into the tournament.

"We've seen some really good improvements, immeasurable fitness (gains), during the couple of camps we've had," the flanker told AAP.

"But more than that, some really good mental fitness as well.

"It's one thing being able to make your targets; it's another being able to push to get better than what your target is and I think we've developed that.

"You would have heard 'Cheik' saying 'guys have learnt how to work hard' and we've definitely achieved that over the course of the last three weeks."

Australia last won the Bledisloe Cup in 2002. They have only won 12 compared to the All Blacks, who have a staggering 44 titles. Hooper is still confident that his charges can match New Zealand.

"There's obviously ways they play the game, but every team that plays has weaknesses," he said.

"They give you a lot of ball, but it's also one of their strengths. You can make the most of it.

"They're just a very good team at continually delivering the same picture.

"So to break them down, we've got some plans around that and it's about doing it more consistently than them."

Rennie explains Glasgow Warriors choice

Glasgow head coach Dave Rennie has begun his tenure at the club and the New Zealander is excited to get things going this PRO14 season.

Rennie, a Super Rugby winner with the Chiefs, took on his first practice with his new squad in person on Monday and was quick to praise the work of his fellow coaches in pre-season.

“It’s come around quick to be honest,” said Rennie to glasgowwarriors.org.

“It doesn’t seem like a long time, with having had a Chiefs season to prepare for too. It’s been full on, what with Chiefs commitments as well, but there’s been a lot of Skypes and conferences, and I’ve been over here two or three times during Super Rugby bye weeks and so on.

“The coaches came down to Cape Town when I was there with the Chiefs, too, so there’s been a lot of planning. We’ve had a few Skypes with the full team, which was a bit awkward! The S&C boys have done a great job though – our boys are in good nick and we’re ready to crack on.

Rennie was very successful at the Chiefs and became one of the most sought-after coaches in world rugby. He explained that it was the culture and ambition of his new club that saw him choose them.

He said: “It was a few things really – Gregor [Townsend] came to spend a little time with us at the Chiefs back in 2012 and I got to know him pretty well. I’ve taken a bit of an interest in Glasgow since then, and I sent them a message when they won the PRO12.

“I was looking for a new challenge as well – I’d often talked about going overseas and coaching, and when the opportunity at Glasgow came up I was really excited about it. I’ve got a bit of Scottish ancestry, and it was a really good fit for me. It’s a good club with good people."

Hartley backs Tuilagi and Solomona recall

England captain Dylan Hartley feels Manu Tuilagi and Denny Solomona can still be recalled to the England squad after their recent axing from a pre-season training camp.

Hartley said Leicester centre Tuilagi and Sale wing Solomona “let us down” when they broke England’s code of conduct. The breach is rumoured to have been linked to alcohol consumption.

Both players were sent home by head coach Eddie Jones on Monday, August 7. 

Many believe their Test careers could be over, but hooker Hartley believes both stars can still make a comeback.

“We’re a team and as a team we set our own standards off the field,” he told Press Association Sport.

“And ultimately those guys let us down in that area.

“We’re a team and we’ve got a code of conduct that we adhere to.

“The team dealt with it and I’m sure those players will have their heads down and be working hard now to get back in the picture.

“Because they are good players, and both of them are worth having in your side.”

Hartley also praised Jones’ decision to remove Tuilagi and Solomona from England’s camp. However, he did insist that the duo’s reaction to their exile will define their futures and not the disciplinary lapse itself.

Blue Bulls sign Boshoff

The Blue Bulls have announced that former Springbok fly-half Marnitz Boshoff has joined them on a two-year contract.

The Blue Bulls Company (Pty) Ltd confirmed Boshoff's deal as well as the extension of contracts of a number of leading players in their ranks.

Boshoff was recently released from his contract with Irish province Connacht on humanitary reasons on his wish to return to South Africa following the death of his father.

The former Golden Lions stalwart now joins the Blue Bulls and will return to Pretoria, where he played most of his junior career, till 2019.

Boshoff will be available for the Blue Bulls with immediate effect.

Another new face at Blue Bulls training is former Golden Lions loose forward Jano Venter. The number eight was a standout for the Johannesburg-based side during the recent SuperSport Rugby Challenge. He also joined on a two-year deal until 2019.

Former Springbok Sevens World Series winner and Olympic Sevens bronze medallist, Tim Agaba, is another new face at Loftus Versfeld and has joined the squad having recovered from an ankle injury.

The high performance manager at the Blue Bulls Company, Xander Janse van Rensburg, also confirmed the extension of contracts of a number of high profile players.

Current Springbok squad member, Lizo Gqoboka and South Africa A lock, Jason Jenkins, both extended their contracts until 2019, while highly rated scrum-half Andre Warner and wing Duncan Matthews also extended their Loftus Versfeld stay. Warner signed till 2019 and Matthews till 2020.

Current Junior Springbok prop Gerhard Steenekamp also opted for two more years in Pretoria.

"This is pretty exciting times for us," said Janse van Rensburg.

"Not only are we getting players of international calibre confirming their confidence in our structures, but we also see current players expressing their desire to build and extend their careers with us. 

"This is a humbling endorsement of the process underway in Pretoria. We are hoping to build something special and with quality players like these who just put pen to paper, the results will be seen sooner, rather than later."

'WP must improve discipline' - Van Zyl

Western Province captain Chris van Zyl insists his side's disciplinar record must improve ahead of their Currie Cup fixture against the Golden Lions at Newlands on Friday.

Two WP players were sin binned in their last two matches against Griquas and the Blue Bulls.

Against Griquas, the yellow cards proved to be highly costly as they went on to lose 44-34 after having a 34-24 lead. 

They held a massive 42-13 against the Bulls, but the yellow cards totally stopped their momentum in the second half and they just held onto a 45-34 victory.

“The first thing I did on Monday was to bring up the issue of discipline,” Van Zyl told Netwerk24.

“It doesn’t matter that we may feel we were harshly dealt with at times. We must make sure that we don’t get on the wrong side of the referee.”

WP coach John Dobson said that his team will have to be at their best after a short week of preparation.

“This is another real challenge for this team, but the players have embraced that and we are excited about taking another step forward in our game,” Dobson toldWP Rugby's official website.

“We are proud of our record at Newlands and would like to continue getting positive results at home.”

Rebels set sights on Force's Wessels

Western Force head coach Dave Wessels is among a list of candidates who have applied for the Melbourne Rebels' vacant coaching job.

That is the word from Rebels CEO Baden Stephenson who revealed that the franchise will begin interviewing contenders for the position in the next fortnight.

“We have been shortlisting the coaching applicants and we will be looking to start the interview phase of the shortlisted guys in the next seven to 10 days,” he told the Australian.

The Rebels have been without a head coach since the end of this year's Super Rugby campaign when Tony McGahan stepped down from the position after a four-year tenure.

The Rebels were interested in signing Wessels in the past and Stephenson admitted that they are still keen to acquire his services. 

But with Rugby Western Australia seeking an appeal over an arbitration ruling on the Western Force's axing from Super Rugby, the men from Melbourne will have to wait at least a week to see whether Wessels will be able to switch franchises.

“If Dave became available, we would certainly be keen to have a conversation with him,” said Stephenson. 

“Dave has done a great job in WA and he is highly respected in Australian rugby.”

Consultant role for Edwards at Cardiff Blues

Cardiff Blues have announced that Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards has joined the region on a consultancy basis.

He has already begun working with Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson's squad and will lead defensive sessions on a part-time basis while also taking on a mentoring role.

Edwards will work alongside Richard Hodges and mentor the likes of Gethin Jenkins and other key defensive leaders at the Blues.

Wilson said: "Shaun will be a great addition to Cardiff Blues. His record speaks for itself and I am sure he will have a big impact.

"Defence is an area we have to improve if we want to take the next step and qualify for the European Champions Cup.

"Shaun has an invaluable wealth of experience, which will be hugely beneficial, and will play an important role in developing the defensive coaches and leaders of the future. I would also like to thank the Welsh Rugby Union for their support in this appointment."

Edwards, the most decorated player in rugby league history, has enjoyed an illustrious career both on and off the pitch.

After moving into coaching with Wasps he won the English Premiership on four occasions and every major trophy as a head coach.

Four of his six years at Wasps were alongside Warren Gatland and the duo linked up again with Wales in 2008. Edwards has since been integral to three Six Nations titles, including two Grand Slams.

He added: "I'm really looking forward to working with Danny Wilson and Cardiff Blues. There's a lot of potential here.

"For the majority of my time with Wales, Richard Hodges has also been the defence coach for Wales U20s so it will be great to link-up with him again.”

The Welsh Rugby Union commented: "We see this move as a hugely positive step forward with the Cardiff Blues region.

"Shaun will provide regular continuity between the Senior National Management and the coaching set up within the Blues, working alongside Danny and his team.

"We will see this impact across the other regions with our National Coaches also working with the Dragons, Scarlets and Ospreys at various junctures throughout the coming season.”

Whitelock wary of Wallabies lineout threat

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock is not underestimating the Wallabies particularly the lineout threat posed by Adam Coleman and Rory Arnold.

Ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney, Whitelock acknowledged Coleman had shown his competitiveness last season.

"Both of those guys have been really physical with the way they carry the ball around the breakdown," he told the All Blacks' official website. 

"They've been aggressive.

"That's how they're going to play and we've got to make sue as a team we're ready for that and we have a plan."

Coleman has already laid down a gauntlet by saying the Wallabies believed they had the ability to end 14 years without the Bledisloe Cup by beating the All Blacks this year.

Whitelock said there had been no problem making the adjustment to Test rugby again after four weeks of Super Rugby play in which time his Crusaders side secured their eighth, and his first, title.

Getting back into camp with the players last week in Auckland had got them focused on the Bledisloe Cup game straight away.

Beale relishing Wallabies return

Kurtley Beale is all but certain of starting in his first Wallabies Test since 2015 this weekend, marking his return to Australian rugby.

It’s the same opposition, and it’s only been 22 months, but things have changed plenty since his last Test - the World Cup final in Twickenham.

Beale could barely hide his excitement on Wednesday and is ready to play his first game of any kind since suffering a hamstring injury at Wasps.

"Obviously the body hasn't been playing for a bit, so training's been pretty good. I feel pretty good for Saturday,” he told the Australian Rugby Union's official website.

Beale is in an unusual situation, immediately one of the more senior players in the side, despite having been absent from the Test fold since that World Cup.

Absence has only added to Beale’s perceived value, with the playmaker shaping up as one of the side’s most crucial players, potentially the dynamic key to unlocking the All Blacks.

But it’s the other side of Beale that could be crucial, an added element of maturity that began to come through in the World Cup and has only grown in his time in England.

The 28-year-old said he had taken on the chance to help some of the Wallabies’ younger faces, of which there are plenty, out ahead of Saturday.

“There's a bit of responsibility there to help these young guys come through and help them out in their preparation and in their mindset to tackle the week,” explained Beale.

“At the end of the day we're all the same players, we're all wanting the one thing and that balance is certainly there and it's brewing very well so we've just got to keep backing each other, keep growing as a group.”

Players like Reece Hodge weren’t even playing Super Rugby, let alone Tests in 2015, and Beale said it’s added a different element to the Wallabies squad.

"There's a lot of types that are very new and I guess over the last couple of years they've gained that experience,” he said.

"But they've brought a lot of enthusiasm to the group. These guys are wanting to learn and grow as a rugby player and it's good balancing that out from what it was to what it is now."

Israel Folau is one player who can’t wait to have Beale back in the side, adding an air of unpredictability to a Wallabies outfit that hasn’t won in Sydney since 2015.

“I've been looking forward to KB's return for a long time,” he added.

“It's exciting for him to be back in the Wallaby environment.

“All the guys are excited and hopefully I get that opportunity to play alongside KB at the weekend.”

“We're always confident, we always back each other up," he added.

“We've been playing with KB the last couple of years so I think we've got a great combination.”