The All Blacks will open their Rugby Championship defence with a tough assignment against arch-rivals Australia in Sydney on August 16, the tournament’s governing body SANZAR announced Tuesday.
The New Zealanders, who went through the season undefeated with a record 14 wins out of 14, remain the top-ranked team in international rugby and go into the tournament as firm favourites to retain their title.
Should they sweep England on home soil in June, a win against Australia at ANZ Stadium in Sydney would break the world record of 17 consecutive wins, currently shared by New Zealand (1965-69) and South Africa (1997-98).
In contrast, the Wallabies struggled in 2013, winning just two Rugby Championship games and losing eight out of 15 Tests during the year.
But they finished with a flourish on their European tour, beating Wales 30-26 in Cardiff on Saturday.
The Springboks, who came close to unseating New Zealand in this year’s finale before succumbing 38-27 at Ellis Park, get their campaign underway against Argentina in Pretoria on the same day.
“As New Zealand, Australia and South Africa end their European Tours as the world’s top three nations and with Argentina entrenched inside the top 10, The Rugby Championship continues to pit the best against the best,” said SANZAR chief Greg Peters.
“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.”
The competition, which was known as the Tri-Nations before Argentina joined in 2012, will feature six rounds.