Can you feel it? Something special brewing away beneath those blemished Bledisloe triumphs. Something spectacular in the air as Richie McCaw and his world champion All Blacks get set to make a statement of seismic proportions.
Maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I suspect not. The All Blacks have given every impression over the opening fortnight of the inaugural Rugby Championship that they're building towards a breakout performance. And it just may be that poor old Argentina, the new kids on the block, are the wrong team in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It wouldn't be the first time that the Pumas have been dished out a rugby lesson in New Zealand - far from it. But it would buck the trend. The South Americans have thoroughly deserved their inclusion in the Southern Hemisphere's showpiece competition on the back of sustained excellence in the international arena.
It's taken them all of two games to ruffle a few establishment feathers, following a 27-6 defeat to the Springboks in Cape Town with a meritorious 16-16 draw against the South Africans in Mendoza. And it was the Pumas who left the field last weekend feeling like they'd let the win slip through their fingers.
This is the same Argentine outfit who gave the All Blacks a pretty tough time in the quarterfinal at the World Cup last year. New Zealand led that clash 12-7 at halftime, and only established some breathing room in the final quarter, winning 33-10, two tries to one.
So the Argentinians touch down in Wellington today feeling pretty good about themselves. But do they really know what's coming? Closer inspection this week of the Bledisloe from Auckland which the All Blacks won 22-0, but were far from content about, should set a few alarm bells ringing.
It's not often the All Blacks secure a victory like that over the Wallabies, and are so disgruntled. But there was a real sense in the wake of Eden Park that they had failed to capitalise on a performance that deserved a lot more than the two tries they were able to manage.
Their pace, intensity and creativity were brilliant. Their finishing was abysmal. It was a great result - but a flawed performance.
“We made too many mistakes to be overly excited by it, but at the same time we did play well and put them under pressure,” surmised coach Steve Hansen in the wake of the Bledisloe clincher.
“Our phase plays were just about non-existent, the back-three counter-attack was very, very ordinary, and our lineout got put under pressure.
“We're trying to play a game that is high-paced, high-intensity and that will take a bit of time. Though we won 22-0 we probably could have scored another four or five tries. It's just working on getting those four or five tries rewarded.”
It would be no surprise at all to see the floodgates open this week in the capital. It's got that sort of a feel about it. The timing just seems right.
Think back to the Irish series. The All Blacks were pretty good first up as they caught the tourists on the hop, scratchy in the second test and then positively exploded in the third with a consummate 60-0 outburst.
This week has that sort of a feel about it. They've done some good things, some bad things. Now they're set to put together something resembling a complete performance.
With the South Africans to follow a week later in Dunedin, it would certainly be timely for the All Blacks to take things up a level. You know that's exactly the message Hansen will be sending this week.
The thing is the All Blacks - who will have Conrad Smith and Tony Woodcock back, and lock Luke Romano over his shoulder problems - know exactly what is coming. “We know the type of game they enjoy,” said Hansen. “They like a wrestle, they kick a lot of ball. The onus will go on the tight five to muscle up. We don't necessarily want to take them on in that type of game but we need to be prepared to nullify it.”
Neutralise and then demoralise. That will be the plan for the All Blacks this week. Stand up, and then deliver the tries that have been threatening through those frustrating Bledisloe affairs.
It's what the fans, Hansen and, above all, the players, want.
- Sunday Star Times
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