Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Final flourish should end on right note

Players well set up for return to Super teams and build-up to Wallabies encounter in August.

Eight weeks out from the first Rugby Championship test, and with a final match against France still to come, the Wallabies will already be looming large for the All Blacks.

A final flourish against Les Bleus at Yarrow Stadium tonight, a match scheduled to finish minutes before Australia's first test against the Lions in Brisbane, will set Steve Hansen's players up nicely for a return to Super Rugby before their opening encounter of the Rugby Championship against the Wallabies in Sydney on August 17.

The teams meet again in Wellington a week later.

For Robbie Deans' men, the great unknown is not only how they will fare against the Lions, but also how they will recover from a tour second in importance only to a World Cup. All season Deans' players have been striving for the chance to play the Lions and it has been reflected in their Super Rugby performances.

The Brumbies players were ecstatic when beating the Lions in Canberra this week. There is potential for the Aussies to hit a low regardless of how the series pans out. Their Super Rugby schedule also differs in that they play only one regular season Super Rugby match following the Lions tour.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, appear to be building nicely. They are searching for a performance similar to 12 months ago in the final test against Ireland in which they were completely dominant in a 60-0 victory at Waikato Stadium. They know how finishing a series on a poor note can hurt, too - the loss to England at Twickenham was a reminder of that - and how the margins between success and failure can be very small.

"It's very important," returning first-five Dan Carter said of finishing well. "It's something we've talked about. We want to get better each game. It's still only early days in the season, only our third test together, but we have had another week together now and worked on our combinations and things. We know our game plan a lot better and are working more on the micro-skills of our game plan, so it's really important we sign off this test series on a high."

Whether the All Blacks can make a similar jump to the improvement made between Auckland and Christchurch remains to be seen and a lot will depend on a France team which has little to play for.

While Hansen was happy with how his team exploited the space against the French at AMI Stadium, he still wants improvements. Carter, who missed the first two tests, does too, but he was impressed with the way Aaron Smith, Aaron Cruden and Ma'a Nonu manufactured space with their kicking.

"It's something we really pride ourself on, making the most of opportunities from what the defence presents us and I thought we did that extremely well last week. We kicked a lot early in the game and because of that their wingers had to drop and therefore we used the ball a lot more in hand."

With Matt Todd, Steven Luatua and Charles Piutau set to make their test debuts off the reserves bench, the second half might not be as fluent as it could be, but that's a good challenge in itself, said Carter. "As a new player, and I speak for the other guys coming in too, we need to continue that momentum and improve again from last week ... with a few new faces."

- APNZ

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