All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says his forwards have noted their Wallabies opposites pre-Bledisloe Cup posturing and aren't particularly impressed.
And Hansen also lobbed a well-timed World Cup reminder toward old mate Robbie Deans yesterday as the All Blacks boarded their flight for Sydney.
The Wallaby coaching staff have been at pains to laud their improvements in forward play this year after a 3-0 series win over Wales.
Deans, scrum coach Andrew Blades and forwards coach Tony McGahan have made a concerted effort to tell anyone who will listen that the pack has developed a renewed ruthlessness and are ready to take it to the All Blacks.
“It's an interesting statement isn't it,” Hansen responded after naming his inaugural Rugby Championship side.
“It's not something we usually say. It's probably the difference between Australia and us. We don't talk ourselves up much. Actions speak louder than words."
The Australian coaches are clearly trying to talk their pack into a mindset of not taking a backward step and a massive improvement will be needed after they were dismantled during last year's 20-6 World Cup semifinal loss in Auckland.
Hansen couldn't resist a dig at the fact that many of Australia's Cup team were not back for the rematch.
“You'd have to ask Robbie, but initially you would think he's either admitted to himself that he got the selections wrong in the semifinal or he wants to play a different game and doesn't have the confidence in those guys he used during the semifinal to do that,” he said.
“For us it's a matter of respecting Australia and, if we do that, we will get ourselves right to play.”
Hansen also seemed miffed by the absence of mercurial Reds first five-eighth Quade Cooper, who has been left out of the Wallabies 22.
“Interesting. He's a pretty handy footballer, I think. We've got a lot of respect for him.
"He's dangerous. Berrick Barnes is a quality player as well . . . it's good for them that they've got options.”
There is little doubt Australia's hopes hinge on matching the All Blacks up front and both sides have experienced change in the second row, where locks Sitaleki Timani and Luke Romano are the new kids on the block.
Hansen explained Romano's selection in what sounded very much like an attempt to replicate the success of Brad Thorn in the engine room.
“We like that combination of the big ball runner [Romano] and the tall skinny guys [Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick] even though they're not that skinny.
“That combination worked better for us in the Irish series and we want to have another look. Having a solid man and the big jumping guy in the middle worked pretty good for us.”
Liam Messam had simply demanded selection through his physicality and consistency both during the Chiefs' Super Rugby campaign and against the Irish in Hamilton, Hansen said.
“His defence is stronger. His overall game is consistent.
"In the past we've seen him do two or three brilliant things and then maybe three or four silly things.
"He seems to have matured and got his game spot on.”
That alters the loose forward mix, and Hansen confirmed that Victor Vito would provide cover at openside for captain Richie McCaw in the absence of Sam Cane.
Cane was used during the June series but is not travelling with the squad.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma'a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
Wallabies: Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Anthony Fainga'a, Digby Ioane, Berrick Barnes, Will Genia, Scott Higginbotham, David Pocock (c), Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Sekope Kepu, Tatafu Polota Nau, Benn Robinson. Reserves: Stephen Moore, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Radike Samo, Michael Hooper, Nick Phipps, Drew Mitchell. -
- © Fairfax NZ News
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