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All Blacks start title defense in Australia

December 2, 2013

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — New Zealand will kick off its southern hemisphere title defense away in Australia in the first round of next year’s four-nation Rugby Championship, when the world champion could also be hunting a world-record win.

The top-ranked All Blacks travel to ANZ Stadium in Sydney for their Aug. 16 opener while No. 2-ranked South Africa hosts Argentina at Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld on the same day.

New Zealand will host Australia at Eden Park in Auckland a week later, and plays the Springboks in Wellington in round four. Before that, Australia hosts South Africa in Perth.

South Africa’s home games against New Zealand and Australia are at Cape Town’s Newlands and Johannesburg’s Ellis Park respectively, the same venues as this year.

If New Zealand sweeps a three-test series against England in June, it has the chance of a world-record 18th straight victory in its Rugby Championship opener in Australia, overtaking the 17 straight wins achieved by the All Blacks of 1965-69 and South Africa’s triumphant team of 1997-98.

New Zealand completed an unprecedented perfect year in 2013, winning 14 of 14 tests. The All Blacks have won a dominant 12 titles in 18 versions of the southern hemisphere championship.

Next year, the tournament will also introduce a new venue when New Zealand’s McLean Park in Napier hosts the All Blacks-Argentina game on Sept. 6. The 22,000-seat McLean Park will be the 27th stadium to host games in the Rugby Championship and its previous incarnation, the Tri-Nations, organizer SANZAR said.

Australia’s Skilled Park on the Gold Coast returns to the rotation and will stage Australia’s home game against Argentina.

The Springboks will play the Wallabies and All Blacks at the same stadiums for two successive seasons after this year’s championship title was decided by a pulsating 38-27 victory for New Zealand over the Springboks at Ellis Park in a game compared to some of the greatest test matches.

“We couldn’t have hoped for a more thrilling culmination to this year’s edition of the Rugby Championship and 2014 promises to up the ante with the gap between champions and challengers narrowing with each contest,” SANZAR chief executive Greg Peters said.

Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium will host the third Bledisloe Cup game between Australia and New Zealand on Oct. 18, a fixture that’s not part of the Rugby Championship schedule.

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Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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