All Blacks adamant they're dialled in for their shot at test rugby history
The Wallabies believe the All Blacks might be over-confident ahead of their shot at history at Eden Park, though all indications are that is just wishful thinking from a group who have played second fiddle in the trans-Tasman rivalry from the off this year.
The All Blacks assembled, belatedly, in Auckland on Tuesday and promptly added Counties Manukau halfback Augustine Pulu to cover for the self-enforced absence of the troubled Aaron Smith whom we're told wanted no part of this test week.
Really, who could blame him after a tumultuous fallout from his highly publicised airport toilet shenanigans.
"It's done and dusted as far as we're concerned and we're getting ready for another test match," said assistant coach Ian Foster.
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Added senior flanker and leadership group member Jerome Kaino: "He's got a clear way forward for himself and he'll get a lot of help. For us it's just focusing on the processes this week to get the outcome we want this weekend."
And from the off there was a steely resolve about the All Blacks as they discussed their chance to complete a season sweep over the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday night, and with it achieve the elusive test rugby record win streak (of 18) they've been chasing for a few years now.
Foster laid out an early marker when he was asked whether the All Blacks might be bringing in a potential November tourist or two to get them an early feel for the requirements of test week preparations.
"It's a massive test for us," added the All Blacks attack guru in the negative. "It's a game we're really excited about. We've got a chance to create a bit of history, so preparations have got to reflect the importance of that. This week is purely about this week, not about the future."
It had been interesting to see Wallabies coach Michael Cheika quoted in some Australian media reports suggesting the All Blacks believed they would win this add-on third trans-Tasman matchup of the season easily, having taken the first two so conclusively (by a combined 54 points).
"They'd be thinking they'll do it easy," Cheika said from Sydney as preparations were launched for Bledisloe III. "We haven't really tested them this year. They scored [six tries] in the first game, four in the second game, so I don't think they'll be too stressed about us."
Foster wasn't too keen to buy into any exchange of banter, saying "coaches will do what they need to do to get messages across", but suggested Cheika's inference was well wide of the mark.
"I'm not sure what he meant by that. All I know is it's Australia, it's a big occasion, and it means a lot to us.
"Looking at their tests against Argentina and South Africa, they've taken a lot on board from those first two tests [against the All Blacks]. They've moved on and I think are playing a better style of rugby. It looks like they're understanding what they're trying to do more.
"But I think we probably are [better] too. We've certainly stepped up little bit from August. I think there are two improved teams, and we'll see who's improved the most."
The All Blacks are certainly not hiding from the record win streak as the theme for the week, though they can also extend their remarkable run of victories both at home (44) and at Eden Park where they've won 35 on the bounce since 1994.
"There's no hiding from it," added in-form veteran loose forward Jerome Kaino. "The record is going to be talked about, it's going to be mentioned everywhere, and for us it's a good way to get excited and to embrace it. We love to play at Eden Park, and there's no reason why we shouldn't get excited. It's a great occasion for us.
"A lot of the guys here were involved in those failed attempts [at the win streak record], but this is a different mindset, a different team this time round. We're getting very excited about it."
Foster also confirmed there would be no strategic resting of key players this week. He said it wasn't necessary after some careful managing of the workload on the recent tour to Argentina and South Africa, and an extended break since.
"We think we reaped the rewards from that," said the assistant coach before a rigorous afternoon training session at Blues HQ.
"Today is about assessing the energy levels and where everyone is at mentally and physically, and making sure guys we pick are 100 per cent for Saturday. But after this extended break we're expecting everyone to be on top of their game."
Translation: don't expect mass changes for a test the All Blacks are taking as seriously as any this year. That's likely to mean the returning Aaron Cruden and Sam Cane come back off the bench, if at all, with the looming November tour when the old selection merry-go-round likely comes into play.
Double Olympic gold medal rower Mahe Drysdale also spent the day with the All Blacks before jetting out for a trip to the US. Foster said that was about one elite Kiwi sportsman sharing some ideas with a team that's on the verge of its own Olympic-sized moment.
And just for Cheika's reference, they don't come more humble or grounded than the singe-sculler extraordinaire.