Victor Vito is expecting a strong Wallabies challenge as he chases a rare start at blindside flanker in Sydney on Saturday.
Messages reverberating from the All Blacks camp this week have emphasised the revered place the historic Bledisloe Cup continues to hold with the players, and New Zealanders, for the last 82-years.
According to Vito, its presence and value is right up there with the World Cup.
"It's a big thing anytime you come up against the Wallabies. The Bledisloe Cup, next to the World Cup, that's a big deal to us Kiwis," Vito said.
"It's going to be a massive challenge because they've been in camp for a little while now."
Both trophies are safely locked away in a Wellington headquarters cabinet for now, but there will be no hint of complacency in the first of three clashes with the Wallabies this year, despite the All Blacks' imposing aura.
In the last four years, under Robbie Deans, Australia have lost 11 of their 14 outings against the men in black. The decade-long Bledisloe Cup drought has become a psychological barrier, as much as a performance issue.
The dominance stretches further. Of the 167 matches between the neighbouring rivals, the Wallabies have won just 47.
Yet Vito stressed there was no right of passage. The All Blacks realised the threat the Wallabies posed. That's why they always rose for the occasion.
"The only reason the All Blacks have a success rate like that is because we take them so seriously," Vito said.
"Every year they are our biggest threat so we can't lay off them at any point."
Those statistics, plus the green nature of Australia's forward pack, which includes just two survivors from last year's World Cup semi-final, suggest Steve Hansen's men will, again, be overwhelming favourites to stamp their authority, immediately.
Achieve that and Deans' men have the improbable task of winning in Auckland and Brisbane to reclaim the Bledisloe for the first time since 2003.
On a more personal note, Vito is favoured to start at blindside flanker, over Adam Thomson and Liam Messam, and make his first appreance in Sydney for the All Blacks since 2010.
The venue does not hold fond memories. Two years ago, Vito missing a crucial tackle in the one-point defeat.
Since then, however, Vito has produced strong form at number eight with the Hurricanes and continues to stake a claim to cover Jerome Kaino's physical presence.
Vito's likely loose-forward combination with Richie McCaw and Kieran Read will be crucial in the breakdown battle with Wallabies captain David Pocock.
"I've spent a bit of time with them. They're guys with heaps of experience," Vito said of McCaw and Read.
"Getting by them and asking the odd question always helps going into a game."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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