Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Momentum vital for All Blacks

Graham Henry. Photo / Getty Images
Graham Henry. Photo / Getty Images

Momentum. It is the key word for the All Blacks tomorrow in Brisbane: eight letters to be ignited by that same number who inhabit the pack.

This is the A-pack (with the exception of absent father-in-waiting Jerome Kaino). Four hundred caps of the most skilled and gnarly forwards the selectors can find.

This is their Lord Kitchener moment, when coach Graham Henry and his panel stare down these men and intone: "Your country needs you."

This could be the All Blacks' last serious hit-out before the World Cup quarter-finals and a broad examination of all their technical, physical and mental skills.

They do meet France in their tournament pool, but French form fluctuates while Tonga, Japan and Canada offer solid segments to their games.

But nothing to match what the Wallabies should bring tomorrow, a side on their own dungheap who have toned up their selections, beaten the Springboks away and had time to think and address the issues they had at Eden Park.

The All Blacks will be edgy. They are carrying even more burdens of salvation after being beaten by the Boks last weekend.

Twin defeats going into the World Cup will not only nibble at their confidence but pump up those who are looking to hobble them in the playoffs.

So performance and victory are the targets tomorrow when the All Blacks go hunting for a repeat Wallaby scalp to nail the Tri-Nations title once more.

The Wallabies have upped the grit in their pack with the recall of Dan Vickerman at lock and Radike Samo at No 8 - men of pedigree but untested at test level for a while.

So it is over to the men wearing the low numbers on their new skinfold tight black jerseys to set the standards, to lay down their setpiece and breakdown authority.

A week ago, the All Black pack lacked a direct approach and authority, Morne Steyn nailed the penalties while his Bok cover defence just quelled the backline incisions.

The Wallaby defence is likely to be stronger so the breaches need to come up front first, to draw the numbers towards the breakdowns so space increases out wide.

Similar ideas will come from the Wallabies through the power of Samo or surges from Will Genia around the side of pileups rather than straight through the middle.

"The challenge is to shut him down, he snipes round rucks and creates opportunities. So we want to take that away so he only passes and kicks," Piri Weepu said.

Coach Graham Henry admires Weepu for his ability to read games from the pine and to make invaluable contributions as a substitute.

But this week he starts, as he did at Eden Park, in what seems to be a definite plan for the Wallabies. Weepu ran out of gas there after 60 minutes, but he was a strong part of the All Blacks' winning foundation.

Jerseys too for Sam Whitelock, who takes over from Ali Williams, and Adam Thomson, who pulls on the No 6 strip this weekend in Kaino's absence.

This is a huge test for the entire team and a significant inquiry for this pair. Much of Whitelock's season was stymied by an ankle injury and then Williams needed to be played after his two-year absence.

Now Whitelock has the chance to show his range of skills alongside the old warrior Brad Thorn.

For Thomson, the stage is his once more to emphasise his versatile skills or risk giving way to a revitalised Victor Vito.

As usual there are tests within the full examination, subsidiary inquiries inside the broad investigation and, most important for the All Blacks, a test to win as an entree to the main rugby course.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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