It was initially pencilled in as a development test but the All Blacks' clash with Japan in Tokyo next month could see the return of Dan Carter.
Since being crunched by Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis at Eden Park, Carter has been sidelined with an AC shoulder injury. While his recovery is tracking well, he will not be risked in the final Bledisloe Cup test in Dunedin next week.
It's been a rough year for the world-class playmaker with a broken hand and calf strain limiting his availability. A light hitout against Japan on November 2, before moving on to France and the three-match end of year tour, represents the ideal comeback for the 31-year-old.
All going to plan, Carter will use the Japanese fixture as a chance to ease his way back into action. Stranded on 98 tests, that could see him join Mils Muliaina (100 tests), captain Richie McCaw (120), Tony Woodcock (104) and Keven Mealamu (108) against England at Twickenham as the only players to have reached the century milestone for the All Blacks.
"If he's not right we won't risk him [in Dunedin] and we'll just take him straight through to Japan," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said. "He needs some rugby so it would be an ideal game. He's hovering in the high 90s and it would be nice to see him get to the 100."
In Carter's absence Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have enjoyed significant game-time. Their progression, and Tom Taylor's performance in Wellington, means there is less need to develop alternatives at first five-eighth.
"The people we were going to develop in that position have been getting a lot of game-time," Hansen said.
While there may be a temptation to rest the experienced Woodcock and give Wyatt Crockett a start, experimentation against the Wallabies will be kept to a minimum.
Hansen and fellow selectors Ian Foster and Grant Fox will prefer to stick with their consistency policy. But with Conrad Smith signing off for a well-earned break attention will turn to how Ben Smith handles his switch from wing to centre.
"He is playing well on the wing but he's the guy we've earmarked for a long time. We think he can do that role and he's keen to do it. We'll give it a crack there and see how it goes," Hansen confirmed.
"I don't see us making too many changes. There will be one or two, but not wholesale changes. The formula has been pretty good the way we've been doing it with consistency. We're managing to get people good time through coming off the bench."
Maintaining this year's nine-match unbeaten run as well as sweeping the Wallabies should ensure there is no complacency. The All Blacks will be aware it was in this "add-on" game in Brisbane last year they were held to a scrappy 18-all draw.
"It won't be that difficult to get up. Australia are one of our great rugby rivalries. They had a great win last night, beating the Pumas [52-17]. They'll be very confident. They'll be coming to our place so we need to make sure we're up for it."
After a physically and mentally sapping win over the Boks - just the All Blacks' fourth in history at Ellis Park - Hansen has given his men some extra time at home. The side will not assemble until Tuesday next week, instead of on Saturday.
As the All Blacks showed in Johannesburg they do not need a full week to produce the goods.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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