It seemed strange the All Blacks went for some mix and match selections in their backs.

It felt a waste to have the world's best fullback Ben Smith out on the wing or the reliable Ryan Crotty at centre when he was so effective as a voice and director closer to the action.

Injury and circumstance forced those choices at times but apart from the injured Sonny Bill Williams the selectors had a clean sheet for this weekend's start of the Bledisloe Cup.

Crossed fingers were unfurled when the team was revealed. It needed a double check though.


Smith at fullback, Waisake Naholo and Rieko Ioane on the wings, Jack Goodhue at centre, Crotty at second-five and Beauden Barrett as backline director outside Aaron Smith.

That's a backline choking with talented specialists to make the Wallabies even more fretful about their chances of overturning 15 years of transtasman bragging rights.

Don't confuse delight about the selection with excessive confidence about the result in Sydney. That would be a reckless move because the Wallabies are a much better side than last season but there's enough about the All Blacks to see them aiming for another trophy retention next week at Eden Park.

Half of the side is in Super Rugby winning form and will bring that mentality to the fray after the messy June internationals with France.

Regular captain Kieran Read returns and so does locking supremo Brodie Retallick to add the mental muscle and drive the clinical work which fluctuated during that series, while Liam Squire and Sam Cane have sharpened after injury.

The task will be tougher with the Wallabies showing how much they had improved with their connected form and stronger game management in a narrow series defeat to Ireland in June.

Israel Folau and Will Genia drive the backline sting and David Pocock's return to the loose forwards has amped up the presence from the pack.

The side's skills and fitness have been overhauled under former All Blacks guru Mick Byrne and they showed against Ireland, a resilience which had been AWOL for a while.


Michael Hooper has been reinstated as captain after a lengthy rest to heal his hamstring but his timing will get a serious workout, while the All Blacks have to test the defensive reads from Reece Hodge and Kurtley Beale in the outside channels as much as they can.

That's where this All Black selection should gather most profit — with the feel they will have for their specialist duties, the gaps they can create with their passing and the pace on the flanks. Goodhue may be a rookie test centre but his instincts are as sound as Conrad Smith's when he farewelled the group after the 2015 World Cup.

Since then the role has been filled by Malakai Fekitoa, George Moala, Anton Lienert-Brown and Crotty with a range of success.

But the solid specialist precision from Goodhue in the 13 jersey offers more threat with the wise tailgating direction of Ben Smith and the venom from Naholo and Ioane on the wings.

It's enough to give the Wallabies whiteboard headaches without the practical confrontations at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

Injury defections from senior centres Tevita Kuridrani and Samu Kerevi have hurt them and while Hodge is a competent player, if he has to deal with repeated onslaughts through the middle of the park, his defensive unity with Beale, Folau and his wings will be stretched.

Optimism is part of the Wallaby fabric and was for the last two years before they were belted twice in Bledisloe beginnings in Sydney.

Belief has replaced hope this time and with some foundation from their showings against the world No2 side Ireland.

However, thinking they can win is like believing the Lions would take out the Super Rugby title.