Just one task left for 2012 All Blacks
Kieran Read summed up his team's final mission with a single word when asked what Sunday's test against England meant to the All Blacks.
The big No 8 paused for a moment to consider a season that's yielded 12 wins and a draw ahead of what promises to be a fitting finale at Twickenham.
"The season has to be completed," Read said yesterday, emphasising "completed".
"The All Blacks have to win this week or there will be questions asked, so we want to do it right."
His succinct answer summed up a team that has set lofty goals designed to provide aspiration for a group of whom many were already standing on rugby's summit.
It can sound like a cliche, but Read also showed an appreciation of the relentless expectation of the All Blacks to continue the "legacy", a line repeated often in the past month.
Coach Steve Hansen has not publically aired his team's aims, but being unbeaten is certain to have been the ultimate goal.
It is something not achieved since the John Hart coached side of 1997 and a feat Read and his team-mates are 80 minutes from making complete.
That will not be achieved in a canter, and not just because England appears to be a decent young team with a positive attitude.
It's been a long week and a longer year for an All Blacks side that has endured plenty of distractions since arriving in the English capital.
The sun came out yesterday for the first time since the side arrived from Cardiff, but some dark clouds have lingered.
Hooker Andrew Hore's trial and suspension was swept out of view with the rake sent away for two days to clear his head.
Not so easy to put out of mind has been the stomach bug that's afflicted all but Julian Savea and Hika Elliot, and which kept reserve lock Luke Romano in his hotel room as the side finished its last training of 2012.
And then there are the troublesome calf muscles of Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu, injuries that appear to have come right in time for the final push.
First five-eighth Carter did not overdo things and alternative combinations were given plenty of time on the park, but he made it through the session unscathed.
Hansen spoke in Rome of the two motivations that drove the side's pre paration.
They came, he said, from either fear of the opposition, or within. For the most part this season it had been the latter and it would be the case again against an inexperienced England side written off by all and sundry.
"I don't think we tweak too much. What we're looking to do is prepare really well and grow our game," Hansen said. "Those who have been analysing us will see we've been doing similar things at the start of the year. Some of those things we might be doing better. But we have some principles we are living by and that are driving us. When we get them right we tend to look reasonably good." England will bring physicality and commitment to tomorrow's match and will be fired up by a two-match losing streak and an 80,000-strong crowd.
They have a big pack and a capable tighthead in Dan Cole, but lack experience throughout.
The entire starting XV has just 206 caps, while the All Blacks have 240 in the front-row alone.
Provided England is matched around the fringes and at set piece, Hansen knows his side will have too much class in the backs.
That will be obvious if Carter's leg lasts long enough for him to manoeuvre the considerable weapons outside him.
The Dominion Post