Kaino: Fear of losing to Aussies drives All Blacks
Jerome Kaino offered a tantalising glimpse into the psyche of the All Blacks when he revealed that it's the fear of losing to the Wallabies that drives this team to continue its Bledisloe supremacy on Saturday night in Sydney.
The All Blacks have turned the Bledisloe rivalry into a one-sided procession over the last decade or so, holding the monumental symbol of trans-Tasman rugby success since 2003 and losing just two of their last 20 tests against the Wallabies.
But there's a growing belief across the ditch that their time is here, fuelled largely by the Waratahs' historic Super Rugby final triumph over the Crusaders in Sydney, and Australia's own seemingly irrepressible sporting confidence.
Under Ewen McKenzie, the Wallabies have also found some form of their own, though they have a long way to go to match the All Blacks' current win streak of 17 successive tests - just one short of the record mark for a top-tier nation.
But the Wallabies have rattled off seven on the bounce, and that, allied with a Super Rugby resurgence, has been enough to engender an awful lot of belief among the rugby cognoscenti of Australia. They've not been backward about coming forward with their belief that the Bledisloe corner is about to be turned.
Asked whether this upbeat outlook from across the ditch irked the All Blacks, Kaino weighed his words for a moment or two before replying.
"A little bit," said the 31-year-old loose forward powerhouse who returned from Japan this year to resurrect his test career. "A part of it is just losing to them. You don't want to be on the losing side against the Wallabies. That's what we take into our preparation. Our buildup is based on what it's like to lose to them and we really focus hard on that."
Wow. A team that barely loses test matches, clings fiercely to the memory of what that feeling is like. It's a powerful lesson for teams with pretensions of occupying the rung in sport that the All Blacks occupy.
In essence it's about taking your motivation where you can get it. For All Blacks, that fear of losing has always been the beast snapping at their heels.
"I love these games," continued Kaino yesterday when asked if the Bledisloe was a contest he rose for. "They're the ones you hate to lose. I think that's why a lot of the boys really prepare well and step up for these games.
"I'm not saying they're more important than any other test but you don't want to be in that changing-room after an Aussie test being on the losing side."
Kaino conceded that big-time tests like the Bleisloe had been a big reason he cut short his Japanese sojourn at two seasons and came back to take his test career past the half-century mark.
"It's a huge one for me," he said. "Outside of the World Cup it's one of the trophies I love playing for and love to keep. This test is no different. I'm trying to do everything I can to get a spot in that team to run out."
Barring a twist of fate, Kaino will be there alongside skipper Richie McCaw and No 8 Kieran Read in a loose trio of frightening power and prowess. He had usurped his good friend Liam Messam as first-choice blindside by the end of the England series, and it would be a surprise if that pecking order has changed since.
Kaino recognises that the chirping from Australia is not without some foundation, after the success of the Waratahs and a pretty respectable season from the Brumbies. He understands that the Wallabies, with the dangerous Kurtley Beale at playmaker, are a legitimate threat.
"We know what we need to do to prepare well, and we try not to get too caught up in the hype of everything. We know it's a Bledisloe test and we need to prepare accordingly.
"There's the usual trend at the start of every [Rugby Championship], they build confidence for themselves to get into games. We prepare the way we like to prepare. Our focus is on trying to get our game going and on how we want to play."
And on not losing to those Aussies.