Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks focused on getting attitude right

New Zealand All Blacks fullback Ben Smith after the All Blacks team announcement to play Wales in the 1st Test match at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs.
New Zealand All Blacks fullback Ben Smith after the All Blacks team announcement to play Wales in the 1st Test match at Eden Park. Photo / Brett Phibbs.

Top of the list for the All Blacks this week will be getting their attitude right.

It is a fairly modest and some may feel uninspiring goal but it is something they have failed to do on their last two visits to Sydney. It hasn't become their bogey ground as such, but their record at the ANZ Stadium doesn't make for glorious reading.

Since first playing on the ground in 1999 and falling to a record 28-7 defeat, the All Blacks have played 15 times in total for sevens wins, seven losses and a draw.

They haven't won there since 2013, being well beaten as they were last year and stumbling to the most fortuitous draw in 2014. On both of their last visits, the All Blacks left Australia feeling they had been well short of their best.

They lacked dynamism, energy and ownership and as a result Australia were able to dominate large parts of both games and play on their terms in the places and at the pace they wanted.

The All Blacks can accept losing, but they find it hard to swallow when they fail to perform as has happened on the last two occasions they have been in Sydney.

And having reviewed both games extensively, they know that they didn't have that urgency - that they weren't mentally attuned the way they needed to be to win the collisions and control the contest.

On both occasions, they responded by annihilating Australia the following week in New Zealand. While the return victories were sweet, the All Blacks would rather not be heading to Wellington this Sunday with a burning desire to make amends.

"Since we arrived we have been concentrating on what we are going to bring and the attitude towards this game that we are going to bring," says All Blacks vice captain Ben Smith. "I am sure the Aussies will be planning their gameplan and looking to mix things up, but for us it is about getting our attitude right this week.

"It is going to be really competitive and whoever turns up on Saturday with the right attitude, it is going to go a long way towards doing the business. I know that Australia are going to come out and challenge us."

The intensity the Wallabies will bring is a known. What is unknown is how they plan to use Israel Folau. There is mounting speculation that Wallaby coach Micahel Cheika could be ready to spring a surprise and shift Folau from fullback to centre.

The free-running Folau was used in the midfield by the Waratahs during Super Rugby, but Cheika wasn't ready to do the same for the three-test series against England in June.

Having seen his midfield fail to fire in that series, though, he may be tempted to give one of the game's most explosive and elusive runners the responsibility for leading the Wallabies' attack from the No 13 jersey.

If it happens, Smith says it will make little difference in the sense that they already have Folau marked as a danger man and a player whom they can't afford to stop watching.

"I think wherever he plays he's going to be dangerous and that is something we are going to have to make sure that we shut down his space," says Smith.

"He's obviously a great player and he's a massive strength. We are going to have to make sure that wherever he plays that we limit his chances, but players like that always influence the game."

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