Rugby: All Blacks and Springboks seek hot starts as Championship kicks off

New Zealand All Blacks players practise a scrum as Charlie Faumuina looks on during their team's captain's run in Sydney, Aug 16, 2013. The Rugby Championship could be in for an explosive start on Saturday, when a New Zealand side boasting 874 caps c
New Zealand All Blacks players practise a scrum as Charlie Faumuina looks on during their team's captain's run in Sydney, Aug 16, 2013. The Rugby Championship could be in for an explosive start on Saturday, when a New Zealand side boasting 874 caps collides with a Wallabies team under a new coach featuring plenty of fresh faces and committed to playing the "Australian way". -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY/JOHANNESBURG (REUTERS) - The Rugby Championship could be in for an explosive start on Saturday, when a New Zealand side boasting 874 caps collides with a Wallabies team under a new coach featuring plenty of fresh faces and committed to playing the "Australian way".

And while South Africa are favourites to get their campaign off to a winning start later against Argentina at home in Soccer City, they are wary of the growing threat posed by the Pumas.

It is only Argentina's second year in the four-nation, southern hemisphere championship but already they have shown their competitive capability against the Springboks, New Zealand and Australia.

South Africa had to scramble for a draw with Argentina last year away in Mendoza and expect the powerful visiting pack, plus their strength at the breakdown, to be a major challenge again.

The match at the 94,700-seater complex in Soweto is the main feature of a double bill, also including a football international, to honour former President Nelson Mandela.

South Africa, ranked second in the world behind New Zealand, have won 14 of their 15 previous tests against Argentina, who are 10th in the International Rugby Board rankings.

In the opening match, no one typifies the All Blacks way of playing the game more than Richie McCaw and the openside flanker returns to captain the world champions at the Olympic Stadium for the first time since his six-month sabbatical.

Coach Steve Hansen is negotiating the difficult task of continuing to win at the rate expected of the All Blacks while bringing in new faces with an eye to the 2015 World Cup defence.

The retention of the likes of prop Tony Woodcock and hookers Andrew Hore and Keven Mealamu indicates the balance is still with the 2011 World Cup winners as they look to retain the title they won with six wins out of six last year.

Hansen expects a stiff challenge from the Australians in their first match under former Test prop Ewen McKenzie, though.

"The Australians will front up," he told reporters on Thursday.

"There is a lot of emotion. A new coach and whenever that happens there seems to be an uplifting in confidence. So we will need to be on the job for the full 80 minutes to put our stamp on the game."

McKenzie has backed form over pedigree as he looks to start his reign on a positive note and embark on the quest of wresting the Bledisloe Cup back from the All Blacks for the first time in a decade.

The former Queensland coach has jettisoned Reds fly-half Quade Cooper and put his faith in the uncapped Matt Toomua to direct the traffic in the Wallabies backline.

The 23-year-old is one of 10 ACT Brumbies in the match-day squad - four more of them uncapped - and he will be expected to get plenty of ball out to the danger players in the back three - Israel Folau, James O'Connor and Jesse Mogg.

First, though, the Wallabies must win the ball and McKenzie has selected a pack for a real dogfight at the breakdown, with Hugh McMeniman winning his first cap for five years at blindside flanker and the equally abrasive lock Scott Fardy on the bench.

The tight five may be aided at the set scrum by the new rules on engagement, which should take out of the game the big hit with which All Blacks front rows of the past have intimidated the Wallabies.

Still, preventing the All Blacks from claiming their 100th Test victory over Australia is a tough task, let alone for a team with the Third test humbling by the British and Irish Lions still fresh in the memory.

Fans in Singapore can catch the Wallabies v All Blacks (5.55pm) and the Springboks v Pumas (10.50pm) live on Saturday on StarHub Ch217 and mio TV HD Ch120.