A steely focus on preparation is key for All Blacks ahead of Australia test

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock described the prospect of resuming hostilities with Australia as "awesome''.
Phil Walter

All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock described the prospect of resuming hostilities with Australia as "awesome''.

This probably isn't the week to scoff.

Sure it's tempting. After all, the Wallabies did look second rate during June's series against England, and Australia's Super Rugby sides only made up the numbers this year.

It means when someone refers to Saturday's Rugby Championship opener between New Zealand and Australia at ANZ Stadium in Sydney as "a big game" the natural inclination is to guffaw. One-way traffic more like.

At wing or fullback Ben Smith proved a big handful for Wales during the June series.
Chris Symes/Photosport

At wing or fullback Ben Smith proved a big handful for Wales during the June series.

Only it's been a two-way street at ANZ Stadium over the years. Fourteen times the All Blacks and Wallabies have met there, with the visitors only winning six times.

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All Blacks history isn't littered with unconquered territories or grounds where the team has losing records. But ANZ is one and everyone in the camp knows it.

Vice-captain Ben Smith and lock Sam Whitelock were the All Blacks who offered insights from within camp on Monday. Neither is known for incendiary comments, but what they did say spoke of a quiet resolve within the side.

"We've been concentrating on what were going to bring and the attitude that we're going to take towards this game. That's a big emphasis or us," Smith said at the team's Sydney lodgings.

"I'm sure the Aussies will be planning their gameplan and trying to mix things up but for us it's really getting our attitude right this week."

It's 2013 since the All Blacks won at ANZ Stadium, drawing 12-12 in 2014 before last year's 27-19 defeat.

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"Yeah, we know the record over here isn't that great. The Bledisloe Cup means a lot to both teams so it's going to make for a good encounter this weekend," said Smith.

"Every year is different and I think this year it's going to be really competitive. Whoever turns up on Saturday with the right attitude is going to go a long way towards doing the business and getting that cup."

The word "attitude" wasn't repeatedly rolled out by accident. It's seen as a significant factor in that patchy ANZ Stadium record and there will be no excuses if the players' heads aren't right this time.

Instead of arriving on Wednesday, as they did last year, and staying out at ANZ ahead of the game, the All Blacks are in their Double Bay digs for a week and taking a very precise approach to proceedings.

Whitelock has been an All Black since 2010 and spent years alongside men such as Richie McCaw, whose international career began almost a decade earlier. That's enough time to identify where things might've gone awry against the Wallabies at different times.

"Some of [the conversations] were just around what their preparation throughout the week was like, so that's critical any time you play. But obviously it's a big game this week so nailing your prep was one of the big things that came out [of the discussions]," Whitelock said.

So while the rest of us focus on the phoney war between All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and the Wallabies' Michael Cheika, the players' attention is miles away.

"Nah, we'll let that stay with the coaches. I don't know what's going on here. You probably know more than me," Smith said.

 - Dominion Post

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