A statistically lop-sided rivalry where one side has maintained their ascendancy for a decade might be expected to produce another predictable outcome, yet there is no shortage of intrigue attached to tonight's Bledisloe Cup encounter in Sydney.
Demand for seats at ANZ Stadium has not rivalled the clamour for Manchester United's recent exhibition game or last month's State of Origin decider, but even the most pessimistic Wallaby supporter will surely monitor the advent of a new era under the Queensland Reds' saviour, Ewen McKenzie.
Successful against the All Blacks as a prop and then assistant coach, McKenzie - who was designated Robbie Deans' job even before last month's series loss to the British and Irish Lions - is now tasked with transferring his 75 per cent win-rate against New Zealand Super Rugby franchises to the arena where the outcome matters most.
McKenzie certainly launched his tenure boldly this week by including 10 members of a Brumbies squad buoyed by involvement in the Super Rugby final in his 23-man squad, including arguably the most left-field selection of all: an uncapped Matt Toomua at first five-eighth.
A staunch ally of Quade Cooper throughout the inconsistent playmaker's provincial and test career, McKenzie's decision to put the 25-year-old on the bench represented his first tactical surprise, though it is difficult to argue with the logic given Toomua's competent all round game and the supposed benefit of not being traumatised by prior exposure to the world champions.
Although Toomua is the most conservative pivot available, McKenzie is still determined to employ an expansive game plan against the All Blacks, understandable considering the back three features Israel Folau, exciting rookie Jesse Mogg and a roving James O'Connor in his rightful position on the left flank.
There is also a requirement to showcase entertaining rugby - a prerequisite for Australia's competitive sporting landscape.
The Wallabies regimented style under Deans alienated fans, sponsors and critically for the Kiwi - the ARU board.
Three wins, 14 losses and a draw record against the All Blacks - before humiliating defeat in deciding test against the Lions - was never going to enhance Deans' prospects of a contract extension to the 2015 World Cup. The Wallabies being limited to a solitary try in their last four trans-Tasman tests also contributed to his demise.
McKenzie has wisely vowed to present a more vibrant brand of rugby as the Wallabies embark on a new beginning, though ironically his first game in charge has parallels with his predecessor's first coaching assignment against the All Blacks.
Wallaby fans may grimace at suggestions of a correlation between the past and present era, but it is potentially ominous for the All Blacks.
In July 2008, Deans oversaw a 34-19 victory over a line-up missing Richie McCaw and tonight fellow superstar Dan Carter is unavailable through injury.
There is also the feel-good factor associated with regime change to consider, uncertainty over the effect of new scrum engagement laws; the All Blacks have also been disrupted by the loss of Liam Messam and doubt over Ma'a Nonu's ankle.
At least McCaw returns for his first test since December, though he could not be guaranteed to last the duration. However, he did insist complacency would not be an issue after the team held their lineout drills behind closed doors rather than at the captain's run.
The legendary flanker is only working his way back into rugby in 2013 though clearly his mindset hasn't changed.
"If anything, I've learnt over time is as soon as you don't prepare like you should you'll come second whether individually or as a team," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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