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Rugby Championship: All Blacks looking for fifth title in six years

June window:

Putting aside a number of controversial refereeing decisions which unquestionably impacted more on France than the All Blacks, New Zealand were still mightily impressive in putting a decent Les Blues away in style, winning the series 3-0, displaying huge firepower and amassing 19 tries in the process.

Squad news and preparations:

Hansen has named the usual awesome looking squad. Sonny-Bill Williams is out for the first two games so interesting to see who Hansen pairs together out of Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty. Richie Mo’unga is playing so well that even Beauden Barrett, not seen at his best in a misfiring Hurricanes side this season, is feeling the heat.

Strengths and Weaknesses:

As ever almost no weaknesses to report. Against France, New Zealand demonstrated their usual ruthlessness and firepower to consistently capitalise on pressure and score heavily. Nor do they lose concentration when odd decisions are being made and a game becomes unstructured. The French pack had their moments driving forward which gives just a smidgen of hope for opponents, but not much. Prone to giving penalties away but very rarely within kickable distance.

Players to watch:

How long have you got? The Barrett brothers are always box office and it will be interesting to see how Beauden responds to a rare dip in from. With a string of MOM performances one suspects. Damian McKenzie can be an electric presence, Rieko Ioane scores brilliant tries for fun, Ben Smith is still all class, Sam Whitelock is an underrated giant and Joe Moody has become a truly world class prop. Aaron Smith has seen off the challenge of TJ Perenara at scrum-half and remains a surefire litmus test for how New Zealand are playing.

Championship History:

Won ten of the 16 old style Tri-Nations Championships and four of the five extended tournaments. Last season defied all predictions of a post World Cup hiccough and romped to another Grand Slam, winning with six bonus point victories. Unstoppable.

Squad:

Backs: Jordie Barrett, Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Waisake Naholo, Rieko Ioane, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Beauden Barrett, Damian McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Aaron Smith, TJ Perenara, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. Forwards: Kieran Read (capt), Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Liam Squire, Shannon Frizell, Jackson Hemopo, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Nathan Harris, Dane Coles.

Fixtures:

August 18 v Australia (Sydney); August 25 v Australia (Auckland); Sept 8 v Argentina (Nelson); September 15 v South Africa (Wellington); September 29 v Argentina Buenos Aires); October 6 v South Africa (Pretoria).

Prediction:

Winners, although possibly not with a Slam.

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