Despite two consecutive losses, it'll be myopic to drop the guards against South Africa in the Four Nations rugby test in Wellington tonight, according to Sir Brian Lochore.
"They can be tough and they'll be tough but the way the All Blacks are playing for 80 minutes they'll be too good," said Lochore, who was the chief guest at the annual Eagles Society of Hawke's Bay golf tournament in Napier on Thursday.
The 78-year-old, who is a Halberg Foundation ambassador and honorary Eagle of both the Bay and Wellington branches, said coach Steve Hansen was doing a tremendous job and New Zealand rugby was in a robust state.
"He's got theory, he understands people and people work for him," Lochore said, delighted with what he had seen at the Jock Hobbs Memorial Under-19 Tournament in Taupo this week that showed the welfare of budding talent was in good hands.
He noticed that when he was involved with the All Blacks, Hansen was in charge of the forwards who were happy to toil under him.
"I thought then he would do well in his role as New Zealand's coach and he has and he's still doing well so that's the important part," he said, adding New Zealand needed to keep their foot on rivals' throats although a lean patch was bound to kick in.
Lochore, a Wairarapa farmer, has an illustrious perch in All Blacks history as a former captain, coach and selector, campaign manager and mentor. He also was chairman of the Hillary Commission.
The former No 8/lock amassed 68 caps for the All Blacks, including 46 as skipper after the then mentor, the late Fred "Needle" Allen, in 1966 picked him ahead of household names such as the late Sir Colin Meads, Ken Gray and Kel Tremain, of Napier.
However, Lochore proved pundits wrong when he spearheaded the All Blacks to a 4-nil whitewash of the British and Irish Lions that year. He only lost three of the 18 tests as captain.
Lochore was All Blacks assistant manager of the inaugural World Cup-winning teams in 1987. The 1995 campaign manager to the cup also wore the hat of selector when the ABs beat the Lions 3-nil in 2005, and in 2007.
He was part of the coaching stable when the ABs won the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time in 2011.
Lochore said quite often All Blacks mentors and players tended to go stale after a few seasons.
"But there's no evidence this team's stale in terms of the coaching, in terms of what they're trying to achieve and in the way they're playing."
While he wasn't a fan of the game mutating from a 15 one to a 23 one, Lochore said the ABs had adapted to "be the best 23 in the world".
He felt Richie Mo'unga played quite well in the victory against the Pumas in Nelson last Saturday and another example of Hansen's foresight in exposing players with the impending Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.
"Beauden Barrett was another example. He [Hansen] wasn't worried about how he was playing for the Hurricanes," he said, alluding to how the Canes' pack had gone off the boil to make it harder for the first-choice first five-eighth.
"In that game against Australia [40-12 win at Eden Park, Auckland, last month] Beauden Barrett was supreme, absolutely supreme."
It's been a standing joke between the pair, since Lochore was on the All Blacks selection panel, on how Lochore had overlooked Hansen for selection.
"I didn't know Steve because he was a player and I was a selector at the time and he was playing second five-eighth for Canterbury.
"He used to say, 'You ignored me'. And I said, 'Of course I did because I thought you were a prop, not a second five-eighth'," he said.
Lochore emphasised the pair now "get on extremely well and we're mates now and we'll always be that".
He put that down to he and Hansen having similar views on players.
"When we got around the selection table, him and I got around to talking to each other and agreeing on a player.
"Quite often he would say to me, 'You talk to Ted [Sir Graham Henry] because he listens to you'.
"I told him, 'You should be doing that, you gutless bugger'. So we enjoyed each other's company and had similar views."
The ultimate test, Lochore said, for the All Blacks would be England away in November.
"It's going to be a real challenge. It won't be easy there because they have a big forward pack and their backs are okay but it'll be team work that'll win the game, if we win it.
"We'll have to be right up for that because they've been waiting two to three years for that game so we have be up to scratch."
Lochore said while Barrett's kicking had come under scrutiny "he was not the best kicker in New Zealand but he isn't far off".
However, the game against England would come down to "more than just kicking".
"It'll come down to us having to be quicker and more aggressive."
Lochore said Jack Goodhue was probably due for a rest after playing "superbly" at centre.
"[Ryan] Crotty's a good player but I'll tell you the guy I think is underrated is Anton Leinert-Brown ... he came in under five minutes the other day and never missed a beat."
England coach Eddie Jones, a former Wallabies mentor, wouldn't need much incentive to rark up the Red Roses.
"He's cunning man. I remember Phil Kearns saying, 'Jones will make England and then he'll break England' so I'm not sure where he is at the moment," he said with a grin of the former Wallaby skipper who is now a TV commentator.
"He lifted England a lot but they've levelled a lot lately going on last year's performances but they'll get up for this game which will be the biggest challenge they'll have for a few years," said Lochore.