Rugby: New-look All Blacks will face big test

By Gregor Paul in Wellington

It may not look like it, but Saturday's Rugby Championship encounter with the Wallabies is the biggest test to date of the new-look All Blacks side.

Everyone can presumably understand that the Wallabies are coming with fire in their bellies. They were humiliated last weekend in Sydney and have been mercilessly ridiculed by their own media.

The Australian sporting psyche doesn't enjoy that kind of negativity and the Wallabies, if nothing else, will be about a thousand times more physical in Wellington than they were in Sydney.

There is no getting away from the cliche that a team that is hurting is a team that is dangerous.

"We just need to put ourselves in their shoes and think about what we would be doing and the edge and intensity we would have at training," said All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino.

"Without a doubt, the intensity of their game will step up this weekend. They have had a lot of injuries but even when you look at the guys who didn't play, they have got a lot of class there. Whoever they put in there is going to have a lot of determination to better their performance.

"I know if that was us, we would be doing everything possible to play a lot better and get a win and that is what we are expecting."

The threat Australia pose is one part of why this test will be so revealing. The other, is that by contrast, the All Blacks are coming into the game on the back of a quality performance.

They got plenty of things right in Sydney, played well for long periods and walked off with that special feeling that comes with a job well done. There is no external fire for them to take hold of in the way there is for the Wallabies.

So the question for the All Blacks is, can they back it up? Can they do what many feel is the hardest challenge in sport, of producing a big performance on the back of a big performance?

A quick trawl through history shows most All Blacks sides have produced their best performances when they have been under pressure. They are a team that responds well to adversity when they have time to do so.

Conversely, they haven't been so good at sustaining high quality performances from one week to the next. Their record says they can win consistently, but a closer analysis would reveal that often their victories that follow an epic performance are ground out.

They are often scrappy, mistake-ridden and not of the same quality as the work they produced previously. The intensity lessens, the accuracy fades and the same feeling of domination doesn't eventuate.

This is the nut they would like to crack and there is a golden opportunity to do so this week. And as to how they do it? Kaino is clear on that.

"It is all about attitude and mindset," he says. "We have got the mindset that we haven't done anything, that we haven't achieved anything.

"And how we will feel on Saturday night if we lost at home to Australia. For us, it is back to square one. We haven't got the cup."

- NZ Herald

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