Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Backs to the wall, eyes firmly on victory

All Blacks dig deep as they prepare for the big one against a fired-up Wallabies side.

The All Blacks are embracing a siege mentality as they prepare to face an increasingly confident Wallabies team without the powerful presences of Ma'a Nonu and Jerome Kaino.

First-five Aaron Cruden yesterday suggested as much as he reflected on last Saturday's below-par performance in Sydney, in which they were probably fortunate to escape with a draw, and looked forward to this weekend's showdown at their Eden Park fortress.

Victory will keep the Bledisloe Cup in New Zealand and put the All Blacks back on track to defend the Rugby Championship; defeat will make both tasks a lot more difficult.

"We have talked a little bit that our backs are against the wall ... and we have to come out fighting the way we know Kiwis do and especially the way All Blacks do," Cruden said.

"It is a massive challenge this week, and this team really responds nicely when a big challenge is put in front of us."

The All Blacks have rarely been under this much pressure going into a test under Steve Hansen's reign.

There was a need to get things right against England in Twickenham in November after the defeat of the year before - still the only reverse for Hansen as head coach - and it was also necessary to do likewise a week later against Ireland in Dublin to complete an unbeaten year.

Cruden's comments suggest the All Blacks are focusing not only on their skills, which let them down at ANZ Stadium, but also on their attitude.

Ewen McKenzie's decision to stick with the same team - meaning Kurtley Beale will again mark Cruden - proves he thinks he has a winning formula.

The All Blacks must prove that he doesn't, and they will have to do so without the experience and impact of midfielder Nonu and loose forward Kaino, neither of whom trained yesterday because of their respective shoulder and elbow injuries which are likely to rule them out of the test.

Malakai Fekitoa or Ryan Crotty will replace Nonu, and Liam Messam is likely to come in for Kaino.

The Australians will arrive in Auckland settled and confident they can re-set several records of their own after foiling the All Blacks' goal of winning 18 tests in succession.

The All Blacks' last loss on home soil was in 2009 when they were beaten by the Springboks in Hamilton. Their last loss to Australia was in Hong Kong in 2010 and their most recent defeat at Eden Park was 20 years ago, in 1994.

"Keen and eager," was Cruden's mindset as he looked ahead.

"For us it was obviously a disappointing result and we are really excited about being back here at Eden Park on Saturday night."

Of the Wallabies' mindset, Cruden said: "I think they'll be pretty disappointed that they didn't come away with the victory. They're hunting a victory over us this weekend and we have to either match that or do better than the desire that they showed last weekend."

It is against this backdrop that Fekitoa or Crotty will come in to partner the returning Conrad Smith in the midfield and assistant coach Ian Foster said there would be no concession to the inexperience of the replacement.

"We won't change the way we play," he said.

"Malakai and Ryan are preparing well at No12 and at No13, they know the job description. They've got both the mindset and skill set to deliver that. It's going to be a challenge for any player but we have confidence in both of them."

- APNZ

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