All Blacks say they respect Wallabies, and have the Bledisloe record to prove it
Are you listening Michael Cheika? The All Blacks are adamant they respect the Wallabies, and point to their one-sided recent Bledisloe record as proof positive of that.
As Kieran Read and his men get set to step into what could resemble a three-ring circus in Sydney this week (minus hooker Dane Coles who has been ruled out with further head problems), with Bledisloe I at the Olympic stadium on Saturday night the final act, the All Blacks skipper made it clear that Cheika's wild accusations after the Eden Park Bledisloe last October had no basis.
It was after that match, and a dominant All Blacks series sweep over the out-matched Wallabies, that Cheika accused the All Blacks of lacking respect for his team, citing a newspaper cartoon and a perceived notion that the New Zealand camp had blamed them for planting a listening bug found at the team hotel in Sydney prior to the first matchup.
That simmering discontent has had the best part of a year to fester since then, so just what sort of form it manifests as on Saturday night will be interesting, to say the least.
Given the parlous state of the Australian game, the open revolt taking place over the Super Rugby axing of the Western Force, the decision by ARU boss Bill Pulver to fall on his sword, and plunging TV ratings and live attendances, the last thing they need is another Bledis-woe embarrassment at the hands of the All Blacks.
But Read was adamant his team maintained the utmost respect for the Wallabies when he spoke to media before boarding an afternoon flight to Sydney to launch preparations.
In fact, the skip says the fact that the All Blacks have lost just one of the last 16 Bledisloe tests, and that they've kept the big shiny trophy tucked safely away in their cabinet since 2003, is testament to the depths of that respect.
"We respect them totally," said Read. "They're talented, and if they put it together we know they're a dangerous side. I guess our respect to them is we turn up and play as well as we can because we know what they can bring.
"We'll go out and play hard ... our biggest respect to the opposition is we bring the best game we can. That shows that we respect them, and we'll be doing that again [on Saturday]."
But Read anticipated a staunch challenge from the Wallabies, given the background, the desperation factor and extended preparation time they have been afforded.
"I anticipate a pretty strong effort from them," he said. "They have a coach who's pretty dominant in his mindset. He wants to go out and win games. He wants to beat up other teams. That's what he will have imprinted, and he's had a great chance with the month he's had with his players to work on the things they need to."
And Read said another abysmal Super Rugby campaign, where Australian teams failed to secure a single victory over Kiwi opposition, was a dangerous form guide for international rugby.
"I've experienced Wallabies teams over a number of years who have come out and played above what they've done in Super Rugby. They've got quality players and a strong mindset to try win that Bledisloe. We need to have a similar one."
Given all the turmoil swirling around them, Read was asked if there was a "cornered animal" type danger about the Wallabies.
"They'll try chuck everything into winning against us," he replied. "All their eggs have been put into this basket. We're looking forward to that challenge. It will be a massive game and we've got to be prepared for that."
Last year the Wallabies were torched 42-8 in the equivalent fixture in Sydney, and the Bledisloe locked away seven days later with a 29-9 dismantling in Wellington. But Read said that had no relevance now, especially on the back of the All Blacks' own misfire against the Lions.
"You can't go into a test match expecting things to happen for you. You've got to work hard for it, get your preparation right, and expect the opposition to be 100 percent firing.
"These first two Bledisloe Cup games are what we play the game for as All Blacks. We love to play the Wallabies, we love the challenge and we want to hold on to that trophy."
Experienced openside flanker Sam Cane echoed Read's thoughts.
"You get a side with the talent they have with a pretty strong resilience and maybe a point to prove, and they're going to come out firing. Anyone with that sort of mindset will be dangerous."
Adding to the Wallabies' challenge will be the likelihood that Steve Hansen should have midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty and back-three men Rieko Ioane and Ben Smith back to boost strength. It's likely Owen Franks will be nursed through his Achilles issues to retain the starting tighthead spot, though Coles has been ruled out after picking up another head knock in the "game of three halves".
And Read made it clear that a timely midweek resumption of the Sydney listening bug trial involving former All Blacks security man Adrian Gard would not be a distraction. "It's an interest but it doesn't affect what we do next Saturday," declared the skip.