Nervous apprehension rather than unbridled confidence surrounds the All Blacks as they face by far the biggest test of their Rugby Championship campaign.
Six tests, six wins, and an iron-clad defence meant Steve Hansen's side were always going to take the favourites' tag into tonight's match against South Africa.
It was impossible to escape a feeling of deja vu yesterday as skipper Richie McCaw talked again about the desire to play expansive and attacking rugby.
“There have been times we haven't been as accurate as we'd like but you don't want to stop guys from trying to play, because one or two passes sometimes can be the difference,” he said.
In six attempts so far, the All Blacks have managed the accuracy just once, against Ireland in Hamilton. Dan Carter's injury thwarted momentum last week and now Aaron Smith's suspension for disciplinary reasons has thrown Hansen another curve ball.
Earlier this week the coach played minder at the team-naming as he sat between his halves combination of Piri Weepu and Aaron Cruden.
There is no call for panic after 13 straight test wins, but Hansen will be keen to dispel any self-doubt about the style he is asking his side to play, and the halves hold the key.
Cruden needs to lift after his sloppy effort in Wellington and to adjust his game to the absence of Sonny Bill Williams, who made his No 10's job easy all season at the Chiefs.
Weepu needs to prove his encouraging cameos are not the extent of his comeback from a post-World Cup malaise.
Perhaps his calm head will provide the balance needed to an attack that's had the speed wobbles for most of the season.
It would be helpful, too, if lock Luke Romano stopped throwing passes in hope and if he and other forwards spent less time at first receiver.
Ma'a Nonu needs to run hard at defenders as he did to such good effect during the second half against Argentina.
The All Blacks will also be looking to sharpen up their counter-attack against the likely barrage of high kick and chase from Morne Steyn and the relentless chasing of Bryan Habana.
But more than anything, they can expect a massive physical battle from a side who are feeling intense heat at home following a surprise draw with the Pumas and a loss to the Wallabies.
It's been 13 months ago since the sides last met and on that occasion Morne Steyn kicked all of his side's points during an 18-5 win in Port Elizabeth.
The All Blacks should be too good this time around but a similar scoreline wouldn't surprise.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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