AUCKLAND (AFP) –
Remember Ireland. Remember France. The All Blacks have dug into their file of close shaves for motivation ahead of their rematch with Australia on Saturday where they are overwhelming favourites.
With the Wallabies all-but written off, the pre-match spotlight has instead been more on the expected impact of a departing Sonny Bill Williams and a returning Quade Cooper — two players laden with outrageous skills.
How they perform depends on ball supply and the Wallabies have been hampered by injuries to three first-choice forwards including highly rated flanker David Pocock.
The injuries and poor form in the backs have forced Wallabies coach Robbie Deans to make drastic changes to the side outplayed by the All Blacks 27-19 in the opening Rugby Championship bout in Sydney a week ago.
It was match that never reached great heights, and while the All Blacks dominated their scoreline was restricted by a lack of precision and mistakes at crucial times rather than Wallaby pressure.
To help settle combinations, the All Blacks have made only one injury forced change for the rematch, bringing in Wyatt Crockett to replace loosehead prop Tony Woodcock, and warned they can only improve.
“We’ve got to look at the performance and it was only (good) in patches so we want to be better than that. I’ll be disappointed if we don’t improve significantly,” captain Richie McCaw said Friday.
The biggest hurdle for the All Blacks at their Eden Park fortress, where they have won two World Cups and haven’t been beaten in 29 matches dating back 18 years is not to get over confident.
Coach Steve Hansen has drilled the message this week that there was a similar air of invincibility before last year’s World Cup final against France yet the All Blacks only scraped home 8-7.
Again in June this year, after beating Ireland 42-10 in the first Test, they were saved a week later by a drop goal on full-time by Dan Carter to scrape home 22-19 in the second Test.
“The second week was a totally different ball game and we’ve got to make sure it’s not like that again,” McCaw said.
Back-to-back wins against Australia would mean New Zealand keep the Bledisloe Cup contested between the two nations and McCaw said they wanted the trophy to mark Williams’ farewell match.
The multi-talented centre heads to Japan on a brief contract before returning to rival code rugby league in Australia where he first made his name.
Central to Australia’s revamp is the return of the unpredictable Cooper, who was unwanted last week and is now seen as a potential saviour.
But, the selection of the New Zealand-born fly-half is a gamble in a known hostile environment.
His option taking suffered in his last outing against the All Blacks at Eden Park when he was taunted by spectators in the World Cup semi-finals last year, but stand-in captain Will Genia said Cooper was pivotal to this week’s plan.
“Our challenge is to have threats all over the ground so it gives us an opportunity to get in the game,” he said.
“If we do that then space opens up either close or wide or through the middle and that’s something we’ve been working hard at.
“We understand it will take a very special effort to get the win but we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think we could do it.”
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
Australia: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Drew Mitchell, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane, Quade Cooper, Will Genia (capt), Scott Higginbotham, Michael Hooper, Dave Dennis, Nathan Sharpe, Sitaleki Timani, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, Benn Robinson.
Reserves: Saia Fainga’a, James Slipper, Radike Samo, Liam Gill, Nick Phipps, Anthony Fainga’a, Kurtley Beale.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WAL)