The All Blacks are itching to stamp their champion status on the Wallabies in Brisbane next week.
Having backed up their world cup success with an unbeaten run through the Rugby Championship and widened their gap at the top of the world rankings, the All Blacks appear in a class of their own at present.
That's a tribute to the way Steve Hansen and his new-look coaching team have managed to motivate the side to new levels, cleverly introducing some influential young personnel and tweaking the style, particularly on attack.
They have managed to motivate from within their group, a desire to not just maintain but improve standards, and that will be a driving force next weekend in Australia where they chase win No 17.
The last time they lost was indeed in Brisbane, in their final test before the world cup campaign. That will be a spur to this playing group, many of whom experienced that disappointing 25-20 defeat.
But they are equally moved to try to better what they have shown against the Wallabies this year with a 27-19 win in Sydney followed by a 22-0 victory at Eden Park to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Can it get any better than blanking the Aussies? It sure can if you listen to Ian Foster, the All Blacks assistant coach who has helped install the high-energy, lightning fast game to the backline.
Dismiss any talk of this being a dead rubber. Foster said the team killed that theory last week when they buried the Boks in South Africa with the Rugby Championship title wrapped up.
It's the same again on Saturday: "I think we showed in the Soweto game how much it means to this team just to perform on the day and to put our best foot forward," Foster said as the All Blacks get ready to assemble in Christchurch today, before crossing to Brisbane on Thursday.
"This Bledisloe Cup game is the same equation. There will be some people say that we have already won it and maybe we can loosen up a wee bit but the reality is we just want to keep performing.
"We're in good preparation routines at the moment; the team has taken grasp of that responsibility, and is doing a great job. There's no need to slacken off on it.
"Australia are an arch rival. While there has been a lot said about them this year, they have had a few injuries, they have still come out with a 3-3 record in the Rugby Championship which is not to be sneezed at.
"If you go back to our two games, in both we perhaps missed a lot of opportunities to put points on them.
"But I think that was largely due to the tenacity of their defence and their attitude. While I think we are probably a little better than those days, their attitude and their desire to play well against us is going to guarantee that this is a very tough game.'
With a northern tour looming with tests against Scotland, Italy, Wales and England, the All Blacks first want to get the business done Down Under against a Wallabies team that has shown character if not class in recent weeks.
"Historically the Aussies have played very well in Brisbane. The last time the All Blacks lost was there and history is full of times that the Australians have seemingly been down and out and they've shown a massive amount of character and played really well against us under that sort of pressure.
"We are fully aware that a really strong performance from them can certainly change the whole perception of their season. They'd love to have our scalp, so there's plenty to play for."
With no major injuries, Foster indicated a "steady as you go" approach to selection. There may be some tinkering but a foundation of their success this year has been built around minimal changes to the starting XV and cleverly integrating the new, young talent and maintaining freshness in key areas.
Foster said there was no reason why the All Blacks couldn't get even better. That was about looking at themselves and also trying to second-guess opponents.
"You have to focus on keeping improving things. It's about celebrating the successes and the things that are going good. But it's also making sure we keep the microscope on our game to figure out how could we improve it, what little things could we do a bit differently, but also what would our next opposition do to stop what they have just seen?
"There are a lot of very good people tossing ideas into the melting pot in this group."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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