All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster sees next week's Bledisloe Cup opener against Australia in Sydney as "a great challenge" with the retention of the treasured silverware made more difficult by two of the three clashes being across the Tasman.
Once today's promotional and sponsorship activities in Auckland are out of the way, the All Blacks get down to some real rugby work tomorrow to prepare for the upcoming inaugural Rugby Championship.
Foster says they'll spend the first few days of the camp looking at their own game, including playing two 20-minute spells against Counties-Manukau and Auckland at Pukekohe tomorrow night.
Next week they will turn attentions to the Wallabies and the August 18 clash at ANZ Stadium that opens both the annual Bledisloe battle and the new four-team southern hemisphere test competition that now includes Argentina.
"The first three days are to get the physical contact for some of the players and do a bit of a reminder of where we got to in June," said Foster. "Also, it's a chance to get the team talking All Blacks rugby again after a pretty long franchise season."
Since the All Blacks took back the Bledisloe Cup in 2003, they have never really come close to losing it and only twice since then have the Wallabies won the first test of each year's series.
But there is a belief on the other side of the Tasman that the odds are stacked in their favour this time, with two of the three tests to be played in Australia, including the important opening clash in Sydney.
Even Foster admits that this year is one of Australia's better chances to snatch the cup out of New Zealand's hands for the first time since 1998. "That's the way it is in 2012," he said.
"It is the best of three and they've got two of the games. There is a real excitement coming from Australia about their opportunity and all that does is turn the Sydney test into a huge one.
"Clearly, they'll want to get one under their belt, particularly at home, but it's a great challenge and opportunity for us to go over there where expectations are high on them as well and it should be a fantastic way to start this Rugby Championship." Having spent eight years as coach of the Chiefs, it was only natural that Foster would take some time to get accustomed to life with the All Blacks.
The June tests were a learning curve for the new coaching setup as much as it was for the players. "I am really enjoying the step up, it is certainly a different job for a whole lot of reasons," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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