Lions tour: All Blacks ready to think quick on the defensive line-speed threat
Forewarned is forearmed, reckon the All Blacks when it comes to that withering defensive line-speed of Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions. As Steve Hansen would say, they might just have more up their sleeves than their arms.
They know it's coming all right in Saturday's opening test of the series at Eden Park, and they have seen first-hand the way it can squeeze the life out of such quality opponents as the Crusaders and New Zealand Maori who have both been ground into the turf by Gatland's full-strength, fast-off-the-mark weekend lineup.
Gatland's shadow test squad has conceded just one try in 160 minutes of rugby on this tour, and pummelled both the Crusaders (12-3) and Maori (32-10) in the process. They may be struggling to find their attacking flow, but you simply cannot fault the manner in which they have defended through two impressive victories.
Clips from those two games will have been loaded en masse on to the All Blacks' devices and will be compulsory viewing all week as they build up for the always pivotal opening encounter of this delicious three-test series that only rolls round every dozen years.
The brains trust of Hansen, Ian Foster and Wayne Smith will also be game-planning like mad, and the players expect to see so much of the defensive tactic on the training field all week, that by the time the test rolls round, receiving ball and defender all but simultaneously will be second nature.
That all said, two of the All Blacks' big boppers admitted it's a tactic the Lions use extremely well and is just different enough to anything else out there to be a shock to the system of the ill or under-prepared.
"They brought a real intensity, and we saw probably how they will play," said Brodie Retallick of the Maori game. "It's all about us this week and what we're going to do to overcome their line-speed and attack."
But the 26-year-old rated by many as the world's best lock conceded there was enough newness to the Lions' methods to warrant respect. "We don't see it as intense as the Lions do it," he said of a 'D' line with an Olympic sprinter's speed out of the blocks.
"Some New Zealand Super Rugby sides are using it, and the Hurricanes do it really well. But it's not something you face week in, week out. You'll play Australian or South African team and if numbers are down they'll hold and push instead of just flying up like the Lions do.
"I guess it's a wee bit of perceived pressure because you've got someone coming fast at you. We will train that this week and get used to it, but it is slightly different to what we're used to."
That said, Retallick wasn't exactly wiping beads of sweat off his brow when the subject came up at Monday's media conference, on the back of a morning gym session and busy day of meetings to set the agenda for the week.
"We know it's going to come, so acknowledging it's going to happen is a starting point. And we've got certain skills or aspects we want to adapt to beat it. We'll train it this week and put a plan in place where hopefully we can get outside it or in behind it."
Veteran loose forward Jerome Kaino, who confirmed his readiness with a solid 57 minutes in Friday's romp over Samoa, said it was a part of the Lions' game that had to be prepared for.
"Whatever any team does, there's always an opportunity [to find space elsewhere], but also it's how you deal with their pressure," said the 78-test No 6. "From what we've seen it's been a strength of theirs and puts teams under a lot of pressure and makes them do things they don't usually do.
"We'll address that this week and train areas where we can attack it. But it's awesome how they defend. The Lions just don't miss their tackles when they get up there."
The other perceived strength of the visitors is in that pack which is expected to be retained en masse from the Maori game. The All Blacks understand that if they can match, or even shade, them in the arm-wrestle, they'll be a long way down the track to a 1-0 series lead.
"You always want to measure yourself against the best, and the way northern hemisphere teams have been playing the last couple of years in the forwards, they've set the standards. I want to measure myself against those guys," said Kaino, a likely starter in the loose trio alongside skipper Kieran Read and openside Sam Cane.
Added Retallick: "We've got huge respect for what the Lions are and what they're bringing. Their set piece is a real asset – their scrum and lineout maul. It's going to be a battle there. They've got some big, ball-carrying loose forwards and we're going to have to get in front of them and make tackles."
Forewarned, forearmed and certainly fervent, this is a test that can't come soon enough for these All Blacks.