Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Into the final dress rehearsal

Richie McCaw during the Tri-Nations match at FNB Stadium Johannesburg. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw during the Tri-Nations match at FNB Stadium Johannesburg. Photo / Getty Images

All the emotion-laden speeches should have been delivered to the All Blacks earlier in the week, tonight is the time for clear thinking in the furnace at Suncorp Stadium.

Coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw and a huge chunk of his troops have been to this sort of sporting inferno many times before.

All the preparation has been ticked off, the words should be crisp but edgy, perhaps the first hint of a "remember Cardiff" catchcry.

There are no more duels before the World Cup, there is no time for self-doubt, this is statement time for the All Blacks' tournament.

McCaw often talks about how quality sides get their minds tuned to see off opponents of equal and sometimes more ability.

It is all about that self-defining last 10 per cent of clear unbending mental concentration, the sort which has pitched the All Blacks into a high 80s percentage success rate under Henry.

If the seasoned supremo had to find any more boxes to tick or had not considered every World Cup scenario about 20 times already, tonight is a superb stage.

The All Blacks are just a bit under the cosh.

They were untidy in a loss last week against the Springboks, they have travelled halfway round the globe to Brisbane, they can smell the expectant hot breath of their New Zealand supporters.

Meanwhile, there is the usual warm Wallaby optimism though it has been hit by the suspension of James O'Connor, reworked allegations of social misbehaviour surrounding Kurtley Beale and Quade Cooper on tour last year and training ground mishaps for Will Genia.

Half the All Blacks should be fresh after bypassing the trip to Africa but that absence may nip at some of their fluency.

However, Henry felt that balancing act was imperative to refresh the travel-weary Crusaders in his group and to have his primary combinations fresh and primed for the World Cup objectives.

They need a victory tonight as a springboard for the tournament, the warming catalyst for the nation to feel the Blacks are back in the groove.

Defeat will concede the Tri-Nations title, provoke all sorts of national introspection and leave an unwanted trail to the tournament.

So this is really a timely test with all the sort of tension which will accompany the All Blacks as they search for their second global crown come October.

This is a pressure chamber for many to convince Henry and Co, they should persevere with them from the start of the tournament.

The back three fall into that category straightaway.

Mils Muliaina has to discover more sting to withhold the challenge from Israel Dagg.

Zac Guildford and Cory Jane are being hunted hard by Isaia Toeava or Richard Kahui.

Piri Weepu has the rostrum to convince the panel he is the best man to play the Wallabies and any other side and should be a regular starting option.

Up front the demands will be on snorting accuracy, confrontation and delivery.

If Sam Whitelock commands the lineout as well as Ali Williams can, then his defence and allround play should give him a selection push.

And when Adam Thomson looks at the multi-position role he has claimed in the looseforwards, this is a test to underscore those qualities.

Otherwise the athletic power of Victor Vito is waiting for a redemptive chance from the bench.

Are you convinced the All Blacks will respond with a victory?

There is no doubt they will bring a different standard tonight but that is no guarantee of a result.

However, there is still a fragile tinge to the Wallabies. There is a hint of unease even on their favoured track where the All Blacks have won all three of their previous encounters.

- NZ Herald

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