Wayne Pivac took to the golf course yesterday after Auckland's final big training session of the week.
For the Auckland coach, who is seeking to break Canterbury's four-year grip on the national provincial championship, the work has been done, the plans already in place.
There is already an end-of-season feel to the Auckland team, quite apart from Pivac's late-week golf game at the Akarana club. The tractors have been busy coring the team's training fields at Unitec in the city, prompting one wag to ask whether someone at the union was expecting them to lose last weekend's semifinal to Wellington in the capital.
Pivac knows, however, that only the most energetic and committed performance will do against Canterbury in Christchurch tomorrow night (Sat). It's not quite holiday time yet.
In seeking their fifth consecutive title, Canterbury have been ruthless at times this season, which they first showed in a convincing victory over Auckland in Christchurch in round two after losing their opener against Tasman.
Pivac will have seen the way Taranaki troubled the Cantabs twice this season through physical commitment. Canterbury were second-best in losing their Ranfurly Shield challenge in New Plymouth and then battled to subdue Taranaki in their semifinal win last weekend in Christchurch, although the response from the home side in extra-time was impressive.
"We took heart out of that and also the Wellington performance in round-robin play [a 20-12 Canterbury win in Christchurch]," Pivac said. "There is a lot to learn from those performances. It's up to us whether we can get down there and front up as well as those sides did.
"They've been superb, haven't they?" he said when assessing Canterbury. "And Canterbury teams of the last few years, along with the Crusaders, tend to peak at the right time. They've got a lot of experienced players, certainly at this level, and they judge their run really well. They're scoring a lot of tries and have a good defensive record. They're the No 1 team and it's up to us to go down there and get up and knock them over."
It was extremely important for Auckland rugby this year that the ITM Cup team reversed the sloppiness which became the hallmark of the Blues.
It is easier to string together good performances a level down from Super Rugby intensity but it was imperative the players and management did so, as Pivac acknowledged.
"You've just got to look at the Crusaders and more recently the Chiefs. They've come off strong provincial sides and certainly, for us, having a good competition this year, it's good for the self-belief of the young guys coming through if they get selected [for the Blues]."
Two of the best young talents to shine in the blue and white this season have been fullback Charles Piutau, a late call-up for the Blues last season who has continued to prove he has real talent, and centre Malakai Fekitoa, whom Pivac was first involved with when he took him from Wesley College to his Pakuranga club.
"He's an exciting talent and one we've had on the radar early. He's going from strength to strength and defensively this year he's learned a lot. As you've seen, every now and then he's putting in a really big hit which lifts the boys."
They will be important, but perhaps not as much as the hits the Auckland forwards are prepared to put in.
All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina could have an important role to play when he takes the field from the reserves bench after being called in from a holiday in Queenstown.
Faumuina's break before heading to Europe with the All Blacks might have been interrupted but the rest of the Auckland team - apart from Ali Williams - can look forward to one after this weekend. After one last effort against Canterbury, that is.
Teams for the ITM Cup premiership final at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm
Canterbury: Johnny McNicholl, Telusa Veainu, Robbie Fruean, Tom Taylor, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (c), Dominic Bird, Joel Everson, Ben Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Jed Brown, Jordan Taufua, Matthew Thatcher, Kolio Hifo, Stephen Gee.
Auckland: Charles Piutau, Ben Lam, Malakai Fekitoa, Hadleigh Parkes, Dave Thomas, Gareth Anscombe, Alby Mathewson, Joe Edwards, Daniel Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Ali Williams, Liaki Moli, Angus Ta'avao, Pauliasi Manu. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Charlie Faumuina, Nathan Hughes, Sean Polwart, Wayne Ngaluafe, Simon Hickey, Lolagi Visinia.
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick