NZ chases world record streak vs. Australia

By STEVE McMORRAN - AP Sports Writer ,

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New Zealand's All Blacks team celebrate with the trophy after winning the rugby championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016.

New Zealand's All Blacks team celebrate with the trophy after winning the rugby championship in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. (Photo: AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand will start an overwhelming favorite to beat Australia in Saturday's third Bledisloe Cup test and establish a world record for a tier-one rugby nation of 18 straight test wins.

Betting agencies in New Zealand and Australia have the All Blacks at almost unbackable odds to continue that winning streak and another, longer one against the Wallabies.

New Zealand has not lost to Australia at Eden Park, Saturday's match venue, since 1986 and at any New Zealand venue since 2001. They have already beaten Australia in two tests this season — 42-8 in Sydney and 29-9 in Wellington — to extend their 14-year hold on the Bledisloe Cup, making Saturday's match a dead rubber.

The All Blacks made only one change to their starting lineup for the match while Wallabies were unable to finalize a lineup until the eve of the match.

Australia coach Michael Cheika has moved Brad Hodge from the wing to inside center and relocated Bernard Foley from his stopgap role in the midfield to his preferred position at flyhalf. That move sees flyhalf Quade Cooper, always frail against the All Blacks, drop to the bench.

Henry Speight returns on the wing for his first test since last year's World Cup.

Backrower David Pocock will start on the bench as he makes a return to the matchday lineup after a month's absence with a broken hand. Lopeti Timani has been retained in the starting lineup at No. 8.

Cheika has also retained young locks Rory Arnold and Adam Coleman after repeatedly changing his second row combination this season and he has brought veteran Rob Simmons onto the bench.

Since suffering a 3-0 home series loss to England in June Australia suffered further embarrassing losses away to Argentina and South Africa during the Rugby Championship and now faces the toughest test of all, away to New Zealand.

Cheika said Eden Park has "obviously proven to be a tough place for us to go and play but I'm old fashioned. I look forward to it. Bring it on. It's a great opportunity."

The All Blacks report feeling fresh after having two weeks to recover from their most-recent 57-15 win over South Africa. They show no sign of feeling pressure as they pursue the 18-game winning streak.

"It certainly makes it an easier week because once you embrace something like it becomes a challenge and this group has shown that it likes challenges," coach Steve Hansen said.

"We've got two choices. We can try and ignore it and enjoy it when it happens or we can say 'yes this is an opportunity'. We've chosen to say 'yes this is an opportunity, it's there right in front of us, what are we going to do about it'?"

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New Zealand: Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, T.J. Perenara, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody.

Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Liam Squire, Ardie Savea, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Malakai Fekitoa.

Australia: Israel Folau, Dane Haylett-Petty, Samu Kerevi, Reece Hodge, Henry Speight, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Lopeti Timani, Michael Hooper, Dean Mumm, Adam Coleman, Rory Arnold, Sekope Kepu, Stephen Moore (captain), Scott Sio.

Reserves: James Hanson, Tom Robertson, Allan Ala'alatoa, Rob Simmons, David Pocock, Nick Frisby, Quade Cooper, Sefa Naivalu.

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