The return to the Wallabies of breakdown specialist David Pocock has put the All Blacks, already on notice thanks to coach Steve Hansen's warnings, on high alert.

Pocock, 30, took a sabbatical last year but returned to the Wallabies for the June series against Ireland and his quality was immediately obvious.

The Brumbies player was especially prominent in the third and deciding test in Sydney, which the Wallabies lost by only 20-16 and the All Blacks are well aware of his pilfering talent stretching back to the World Cup semifinal at Eden Park in 2011.

His return comes amid Hansen's comments that the Wallabies, who beat the All Blacks in the third and final Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane in October, will be the favourites at ANZ Stadium. Hansen, determined to stamp out any potential complacency in his side, has already talked about the need to match the home side's hunger and attacking mentality.

Advertisement

"He's always a big threat when he plays," said rival All Blacks loose forward Sam Cane of Pocock. "The way he continually bounces back and plays at a high level is pretty outstanding. It just creates an awareness – we're on more of a high alert than normal around the breakdown.

"In every test match there's always a big emphasis on the breakdown – whether it's their ball or our ball, disrupting their ball or trying to get fast ball. It will be a focus again."

Cane's reference to Pocock bouncing back from adversity is significant because he was given extra attention by New Zealand teams during the recent Super Rugby season, especially by the Highlanders in Dunedin during the home side's victory. However, the 69-test veteran, who has been playing international rugby for 10 years, is a tough man to keep down.

An added level of intrigue in terms of the loose forwards has been provided by the return to fitness of skipper and openside flanker Michael Hooper, a player who has been sidelined for seven weeks with a hamstring injury suffered in the first test against Ireland.

Hooper's leadership will be seen as crucial by coach Michael Cheika, who is also a big fan of his ball-carrying ability.

Asked if Hooper, who recently signed a new five-year deal with Australian Rugby, could be hampered by a lack of recent game time, Cane, who is likely to be directly marking him, said: "He's played so much footy for his age, experience is something he has buckets of despite being only 26. I don't think it will be an issue. He has a big ticker and runs all day."

The All Blacks will include a large number of Crusaders, fresh from their grand-final winning exploits in their pack, and will be keen to honour the franchise's skipper Sam Whitelock who will celebrate his 100th test cap should he play as expected.

It could provide an extra level of motivation at a ground where last year they were sublime for the first 50 minutes before letting it slip and allowing the Wallabies to run in four tries in a bizarre 54-34 victory.

"To play 100 games in the engine room takes a bit," said fullback Ben Smith. "The way he prepares for the game stands out for me… his lineout obviously is a big part of his game but there are so many aspects of his game that he's worked on over the years."

Cane added: "He's just a very proud and driven All Black who works very hard on his game."