Forget Aussie hype, ABs have a shot at history
Bad news, Australia. That Super Rugby triumph you had a week ago has dented the All Black aura not one iota as the world champions embrace the opportunity to carve their name in history next Saturday in Sydney.
The All Blacks' best player, bearded and bristling No 8 Kieran Read, made that clear yesterday when he set the table for what's shaping as a Bledisloe for the ages at the Sydney Olympic stadium - the 150th meeting between the trans-tasman rivals.
The indomitable All Blacks take a 17-test win streak across the ditch, one victory from sole ownership of rugby's greatest mark. But they meet a Wallabies team that's rattled off seven straight wins themselves and buoyed by the Waratahs' triumph over the Crusaders in last weekend's Super Rugby final.
"They're probably just backing up the talent they've had for a number of years now," said the IRB's player of 2013 when asked about the much-hyped rise of the Australian game. "You can get confidence from Super Rugby but what you do then and what you do these next couple of months is completely different. We'll go over with a lot of confidence in what we can do as a group and look forward to that challenge."
Read acknowledged returning so soon to the venue where they had Super Rugby glory snatched away in such dramatic circumstances added rich texture to the occasion for the hefty Crusaders contingent in the All Blacks. But it was not about atonement, he insisted.
"It was awesome to play the final there in front of a great crowd, and there will be a few more there next week," he said. "It's a big occasion and it is nice to get another chance.
"You're disappointed with what happened then, and you take a few days to reflect. But coming into this environment it's not hard to just switch back into what we want to achieve as a group here.
"Test matches are a completely different kettle of fish, and it's two different teams really. It's about who wants it most coming out next week."
It's good to see the All Blacks so keen to embrace their shot at history. Coach Steve Hansen said on Friday it was pointless to ignore something everyone else was talking about, and Read went even further when he almost cuddled up to the significance of it all.
"This is what sets teams apart in terms of what people talk about in the future," he said. "Those good teams of the past are the ones people remember. That's what we want to be, what we want to do. We've got no qualms about how tough it's going to be but this is why we do this job."
Back in 2012 in Brisbane the Wallabies ended a similar All Black run at 16 when they held them to an 18-18 draw, but the 29-year-old, 62-test No 8 senses no foreboding portents in history being repeated.
"You can look at the Super Rugby final, or at games we played against Aussie in the past, but we go out to win every week, and it doesn't really change. There are heightened tensions when it comes down to a record, but what doesn't change is how we prepare."
And Read had a pretty ominous message for the Wallabies in terms of his own mental and physical state on the back of a pretty light Super Rugby workload.
"I feel a lot better than I did this time last year, and feel like my game is in a better spot as well. I certainly feel like I'm playing better than what I was last year and the body is great."
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?