Lions tour: It's like a World Cup final, say All Blacks ahead of series decider

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Aaron Smith says his side are raring to go in a game that could define their careers.

Hurt. Angered. Frustrated. You name it, the All Blacks are ready to mine the emotions for a week they're happy to say already has a World Cup final feel about it.

A shock 24-21 defeat to the numerically and tactically superior British and Irish Lions in Wellington on Saturday night has thrust Steve Hansen's All Blacks into that most unusual of positions – coming off a defeat to enter a defining test match.

With the series locked at a win apiece, the All Blacks have to extend their 23-year, 38-test win streak at Eden Park on Saturday night to avoid the fate of becoming just the second New Zealand team to go down to the Lions.

Aaron Smith says the All Blacks 'didn't help ourselves and didn't attack where they weren't' in the second test defeat ...
DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES

Aaron Smith says the All Blacks 'didn't help ourselves and didn't attack where they weren't' in the second test defeat in Wellington.

That's created a surprisingly monumental final week of this fabulous tour, which the All Blacks were embracing as they launched preparations in Auckland on Monday with a gym session and no-holds-barred game review.

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The New Zealanders have only lost four times previously on Hansen's watch, and on each occasion bounced back immediately with a victory.

The All Blacks got frustrated as they struggled to get on top.
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The All Blacks got frustrated as they struggled to get on top.

The most recent came last year when they responded to a 40-29 stumble against Ireland in Chicago by thumping Italy 68-10 the next week in Rome, and then exacting revenge 21-9 over the Irish back in Dublin.

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith and lock Brodie Retallick made it clear that Saturday's loss was still stinging as they reset for the third and final test of the series, even grudgingly accepting the rather selective notion from Lions coach Warren Gatland that they had yet to be "stressed" by the New Zealanders.

"This is the best team in the world and, for two test matches, they really haven't stressed us.

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Brodie Retallick says the "do or die" nature of the test will create huge pressure for both sides.

"They have squeezed us ... but we haven't seen the expansive rugby the All Blacks are known for," Gatland said as his team decamped to Queenstown to start their own preparations.

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That clearly hurt Smith. You could see it in his eyes.

"After Saturday's effort you'd have to [agree with] that," he said.

Brodie Retallick says the second test was far more confrontational than the first.
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Brodie Retallick says the second test was far more confrontational than the first.

"But I'm really excited about what we can do this week back at Eden Park. They really fronted up on defence and closed up that tight space [in Wellington] and we didn't react well to that.

"He [Gatland] can say all those things, but we're focused on what we're going to do this week. We showed glimpses of what we can do in week one, and we need to get back to that."

Smith is adamant the All Blacks have a breakout display in them, a feeling he said was reinforced by a quick review of Saturday's game tape.

"Conditions suited the game they wanted to play," said Smith.

"They wanted to make it a struggle at the ruck, and we weren't able to be assertive with our carries.

"But we didn't help ourselves and we didn't attack where they weren't, and that's something we're going to fix this week.

"There was a lot more space than we thought. We've learned a lot from this game.

"There were opportunities there. Those opportunities will present themselves again this Saturday and we've got to be good enough to see them, and take them."

Smith was fuming a "massive effort" from the undermanned All Blacks forwards (down a player for the final 56 minutes) went wasted in Wellington, but that had now created a week with very much a World Cup final feel about it.

"The one-all factor, it's what you play rugby for," the chirpy halfback added.

"I could play today, that's how ready I am. These are the ones you remember.

"It's going to be a long week in preparation but it will all be worth it if we are able to go out and play our brand of footy."

Retallick talked about being both frustrated and angered by the events of Saturday, and agreed the stakes were ratcheted as high as they could get for the decisive contest.

"There's pressure within the group. It's do or die, now or never I suppose.

"It would be good just to go to Saturday right now, but we'll build well, and there are a few things we didn't get right on attack that we'll get sorted.

"There's a lot riding on it. The physicality and intensity of the first two matches have been huge, and I thought they were a lot more physical and confrontational on Saturday.

"We need to sort that out and make sure we're going back at it this Saturday because we can't let it happen again."

And as much as history will be a theme this week on both sides of the equation, Retallick added a healthy perspective:

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play the Lions, and then win a series, and that's massive.

"But history is not going to help us now. It's what we're going to do to create our own history, and that's the focus right now."

All Blacks bouncebacks under Steve Hansen

1/12/12 lost 38-21 to England at Twickenham
8/6/13 beat France 23-13 in Auckland

4/10/14 lost 27-25 to South Africa in Jo'burg
18/10/14 beat Australia 29-28 in Brisbane

8/8/15 lost 27-19 to Australia in Sydney
15/8/15 beat Australia 41-13 in Auckland

5/11/16 lost 40-29 to Ireland in Chicago
12/11/16 beat Italy 68-10 in Rome

 - Stuff

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