Smith back in black

Conrad Smith returns to the All Blacks starting lineup in one of two changes for their Rugby Championship opener against the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.

The All Blacks have named a hugely experienced team as they go in search of a world-record 18th consecutive victory.

Coach Steve Hansen has called on the core of the team who did duty against England during the June Tests. Smith returns at outside centre, having missed the final Test due to injury, while Wyatt Crockett is at loosehead prop, in for the injured Tony Woodcock.

The major call comes at fullback where Smith's namesake has beaten off the challenges of Israel Dagg for the No 15 jumper. Dagg, who missed the June Tests through injury, has been in stellar form of late for the Crusaders and can feel aggrieved not to have made the final squad. Beauden Barrett and Malakai Fekitoa will cover the backline positions from the bench.

Up front, Hansen has gone with five of the Crusaders who fell agonisingly short in the Super Rugby final, with Jerome Kaino, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles rounding out a fairly formidable pack.

Richie McCaw, who played for much of the June Tests with a fractured rib, will captain the side once again from his favoured openside role.

New Zealand – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Sub: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Steven Luatua, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.

Rugby Championship teams (Round 1)

Photo: Simon Watts/Getty Images