The All Blacks players have yet to focus on the French – that will start next Monday, six days before the first test at Eden Park – but the forwards at least will know what to expect; a set of very large and powerful individuals who are ruthless in thought and deed.

Combatting that increase in speed and physicality which differentiates tests from Super Rugby takes skill, courage and experience, so it is a good thing that lock Brodie Retallick is, firstly, available, and secondly, appearing to be approaching the form of his life.

World Rugby's 2014 player of the year is always a key component of the All Blacks pack, or any pack for that matter, and he was missed during the second half of last year when he took time away from the game following the death of his unborn son.

His last test was the 57-0 Rugby Championship humiliation of South Africa at North Harbour in September, and he returned to the Chiefs for pre-season – a shock to the system as he tried to quickly get up to speed – and is once again leading the way up front for Colin Cooper's men.

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A smooth and injury-free transition to the All Blacks after Saturday's clash at Waikato Stadium against the Crusaders, who will hope his locking rival Sam Whitelock makes a return from the concussion which has kept him on the sidelines for the last two weeks, will suit Steve Hansen just fine.

Brodie Retallick speaks to the media during a New Zealand All Blacks press conference. Photo / Getty Images.
Brodie Retallick speaks to the media during a New Zealand All Blacks press conference. Photo / Getty Images.

Hansen watches every derby match before a test series with a rising level of anxiety, and will also be crossing his fingers over the fitness of Whitelock, his new captain. On Friday the Highlanders host the Hurricanes in Dunedin in another potentially high-impact encounter.

Retallick didn't play for the Chiefs against the Sharks in Durban recently due to an All Black rest agreement, and his absence was keenly felt in the defeat.

Suitably recovered after flying home from Cape Town following the win over the Stormers, Retallick helped turn the match against the Waratahs in Hamilton last Saturday with a physical edge the Sydneysiders couldn't match.

One turnover, or "jackal" late in the match was crucial in nullifying a late Israel Folau-led attack – the match was a lot closer than the 39-27 score suggests.

"He's certainly valuable for this team," coach Cooper said on Radio Sport when asked if Retallick was the most valuable forward in the world game at the moment.

"When the game was in the balance there, I think it was in the 72nd minute, Folau had just taken that wonderful kick-off and we were under the pump, [Retallick] turns around and gets a jackal like that. He did that against the Stormers as well to get us the win there too.

"Not only is he leading in ball carrying and tackling, he's getting right down to steal turnovers also."

Cooper had put the onus on his rested All Blacks to lead the way for the Chiefs against the Waratahs after their long-haul travel home, and they delivered and none more so than Retallick who feels refreshed at the right time of the year.

The 26-year-old, who has played 68 tests, many of them alongside the similarly formidable Whitelock, said today: "We're getting to the tough part of the season – we're three-quarters of the way through or close to it so having the break with the enforced All Black rest has been good to freshen up the legs… I think it's paid off.

"It's pretty much all we need to break up the routine. We live in a routine for six days a week when you're playing week-in, week-out, so just to step away and enjoy some family time has been good."

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