Richie McCaw is expecting the All Blacks to rise to the challenge of playing without experienced midfielder Conrad Smith here tomorrow, saying his side had coped with similar last-minute distractions before.
Malakai Fekitoa is highly likely to wear the No13 jersey at ANZ Stadium in the absence of Smith, who has returned to New Zealand just hours after arriving in Sydney to be with his wife Lee-Ann who is about to have their first child.
Smith, 32, was also a late withdrawal against England in the final test in Hamilton in June. It opened the door for Fekitoa to make his first start for the All Blacks, in just his second test, a challenge he rose to admirably.
"It's happened enough times in the past," All Blacks skipper McCaw said. "Just look at the last test we played when Conrad broke his thumb. Malakai was the last guy to play at centre in the last test so him slotting in will be fine. At the end of the day, if you let those things influence what you do in the weekend, you haven't really got the environment set up right so hopefully everyone's aware of what's going on and have prepared as such."
McCaw spoke before a captain's run held in bright sunshine at the stadium ahead of the Bledisloe Cup clash, the first match of the Rugby Championship. A victory will give the All Blacks the world record in consecutive test wins among top tier nations and will allow them to put one hand on the Cup, as he acknowledged.
"We addressed it at the start of the week and said there was an opportunity," he said of the winning streak which will grow to 18 if his side are successful. "If you look at the Bledisloe, that's on the line as well. We just want to go out and perform well and if we do that we give ourselves a good chance of winning and getting one hand back on the Bledisloe. Those by-products would be nice but we've got to get the job done first."
Asked if it would be a fitting reward for coach Steve Hansen, who has coached the team to 29 victories in 31 tests since the World Cup victory at Eden Park in 2011, McCaw replied: "It would be for everyone. These opportunities don't come around very often at all, if ever. That's a by-product of going out and performing well tomorrow against a Wallabies team which has a lot of confidence amongst their players. It makes for a pretty good match."
A change in the weather is expected to bring rain tomorrow night, a fact McCaw said would put more of an emphasis on the respective teams' tight forwards.
Of his clash against Wallabies skipper and No7 Michael Hooper, McCaw said: "He's been playing particularly well this year from what I've seen and experienced. I think he's got a great understanding of where to be and most of actions have had quite a big influence and impact on the game."