Wallabies squad have gone quiet, far too quiet
MARC HINTON IN WELLINGTON
It's all gone quiet over in the Wallaby camp, and that has the All Blacks on high alert ahead of their return Bledisloe Cup clash in the capital on Saturday night.
The All Blacks are always much more wary of the Australian threat when they're not looking to talk things up. They take that as a sign that focus and concentration is where it needs to be, internally rather than playing the game through the media.
After being walloped 47-29 in Sydney last Saturday night, the Wallaby bravado - so evident in the build-up to the Rugby Championship opener - has gone into shutdown. New coach Ewen McKenzie and his team are rightfully focused wholly and solely on fixing their own shortcomings, which in Steve Hansen's mind makes them a much more dangerous foe this week.
"They're obviously going to be more dangerous," said the All Blacks coach when asked about what he expected this week from a side that must win to keep their Bledisloe hopes alive.
"The first sign of that is they're not talking as much this week. If we were in their situation - and we were eight years ago - we would just shut down and get right into it.
"The mentality would be we've got to go out and prove a point. I'm sure that's what they're going to do, so we have to match that. They'll come out very physical, and they'll get [Will] Genia to kick the ball a lot more than what he did. They'll change the way they play.
"They came out [in Sydney] and thought they could run the ball from everywhere and made a lot of unforced errors. We capitalised on those, so they'll look to reduce them.
"We've just got to go out and play smart again and have preparation that allows us to turn up on Saturday with a real intensity and focus that we can get the job done."
The Wallabies are clearly the team with the greater upside. There's a lot about their ragged game in the opening test that can be improved, especially in their tactical approach where they were a distant second. Execution, too, left a bit to be desired and some of their tackling was pretty woeful.
But the All Blacks are also confident they can tighten their own game up. They got beaten to the punch at the breakdown early on and some of their lineout work was pretty average. The Wallabies also managed to punch a few holes in their defensive line.
Hansen feels the formula this week remains a mix of dealing with what the opposition brings, and getting your own side of the equation spot on.
"But first and foremost you've got to get yourself right. If we get ourselves right we've got a chance of being in the contest," he said, in somewhat of an understatement.
Asked if he had any words of advice for McKenzie this week in what is shaping as a turbulent beginning to his test head coaching career, Hansen's smile said it all.
"I probably gave him enough last week. This week he's not allowing me to do that so he's going pretty good."
The All Blacks coach was also not surprised that McKenzie was set to stick with the backline that badly under-performed in Sydney, with the addition of Brumbies flanker Scott Fardy for the injured Hugh McMenamin tipped to be the only selection change.
"Their issue last week was probably they hadn't had a lot of time together from a game point of view. That will improve them having had a test match, so I'm not surprised he's not going to change it."
Not only have the Wallabies gone quiet, but they also haven't panicked on the back of one bad performance. Their record against the All Blacks over the last decade is woeful - the New Zealanders are chasing their 11th straight Bledisloe series victory - but the turn-around has got to start somewhere and McKenzie's faith will have his men highly motivated.
The All Blacks' challenge is to continue to meet that determination with their own excellence. They are certainly braced for a serious sort of response at the Cake Tin on Saturday night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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