The Rugby Championship: Barrett relishing chance at number 10 for Wallabies clash
Beauden Barrett admits he was surprised to be selected as New Zeland's starting number 10 for their Rugby Championship opener against Australia on Saturday.
The All Blacks are looking to nail down a long-term replacement for the retired Dan Carter, with Aaron Cruden preferred in the opening two matches of a 3-0 series victory over Wales in June.
Barrett came into Steve Hansen's XV and turned in a man-of-the-match performance in the final Test of that series, while his strong performances for the Chiefs have also enhanced his reputation.
And Hansen has installed Barrett as his starting fly-half for this weekend's fixture at ANZ Stadium, which will see the All Blacks looking to strike an early blow in their Bledisloe Cup defence.
"I always aspired to wear that number 10 jersey," he told allblacks.com. "In the past it has been coming off the bench, which I have been really happy to do and that was my role for the team, so now it's an opportunity for me to play well and put my hand up.
"Saturday night can't come any quicker but I don't want to play the game too soon, so I am staying relaxed at this stage."
The match will see Barrett go head-to-head with Wallabies fly-half Bernard Foley - the pair both played in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, but Barrett came off the bench to play on the wing.
"Bernard is a great all-round player, he can run the ball, he's a great kicker and he's a great organiser as well, so I'm excited about that challenge," Barrett added.
"It's something we don't look into too much those personal battles, so I'm sure he'll be focusing on running his team the best he can, just like me."
While the All Blacks come into the match on the back of a comfortable series victory over Wales, Australia are still reeling from their humiliating whitewash at home to Eddie Jones' England.
A war of words has broken out between coaches Michael Cheika and Hansen since the June Tests, but the former will be hoping the return of his Europe-based players - including Will Genia, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Matt Giteau - can give Australia a lift.
Cheika sprung a surprise by dropping Brumbies flanker Scott Fardy in favour of Ben McCalman, while Genia plays his first game since January, having undergone surgery on a knee injury.
Although Australia are the defending Rugby Championship holders, they have not lifted the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, winning just three of their last 26 meetings with the All Blacks.
Home advantage in the opening match provides them with their best chance to get one over the World Cup winners - defeat could consign them to yet another Bledisloe beating.
Key Opta stats:
- Between them Australia (2011 and 2015) and New Zealand (2010, 2012, 2013 and 2014) have won the last six editions of The Rugby Championship; Australia are aiming for back to back titles for the first time since 2000-2001.
- New Zealand have lost just one of their last six at ANZ Stadium (W4, D1), whilst Australia have lost seven of their last 10 at the same venue (W2, D1).
- New Zealand have not lost their opening fixture of The Rugby Championship since 2005 (v South Africa), winning nine and drawing one since then; overall the All Blacks have won 17 of their 20 opening matches (D1, L2).