Top All Blacks back for Bledisloe opener

Daniel Gilhooly
The All Blacks hope to see captain Kieran Read back in time for the Bledisloe Cup

A number of big-name injured All Blacks are all expected to be fit to face the Wallabies in the Rugby Championship, led by captain Kieran Read.

Coach Steve Hansen declared a host of his premier personnel will be available for the opening Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney on August 18.

The teams meet again in Auckland a week later, with Hansen anticipating a fierce challenge from what he describes as an improving Australian side.

World class No.8 Read, who hasn't played since undergoing back surgery in December, is expected to play 40 minutes for his Counties Manukau province on Wednesday.

It is hoped the 32-year-old will play out the remainder of the Crusaders' Super Rugby campaign, leading into the Rugby Championship.

Injuries forced Hansen to blood four uncapped players in his team's 49-14 third Test rout of France in Dunedin on Saturday to secure a series clean sweep.

Missing were lock Brodie Retallick, loose forwards Liam Squire and Vaea Fifita and five-eighth Beauden Barrett, who are all expected to return to action shortly.

Hansen said there was also a chance prop Nepo Laulala could face the Australians, having been sidelined since March with a fractured forearm.

Hooker Dane Coles (knee) could be back for the second half of the Rugby Championship.

But there were two casualties from the Dunedin Test.

Flanker Ardie Savea (ankle) is expected to be out for a month with an ankle problem while inside centre Sonny Bill Williams (shoulder) should take two weeks to recover.

Both are likely to win inclusion in Hansen's 33-man squad for what he predicts will be a genuine trans-Tasman battle.

He said Michael Cheika's team were unfortunate to lose their series 2-1 to Ireland, just as they were when beaten by the same scoreline in last year's Bledisloe Cup series.

A narrow New Zealand win in game two in Dunedin was followed by a loss to the Australians in Brisbane.

"They will come with confidence," Hansen said.

"I think they're a good side. If they don't have injuries, their starting 23, I would say 30, is really good. They've had a great series with Ireland, a series that easily could have gone their way."