Such is the All Blacks’ confidence going into Saturday’s Rugby Championship rematch against Australia that they have shrugged off the loss of veteran prop Owen Franks by calmly slotting in a raw replacement, Nepo Laulala.
Against a backdrop of honouring Colin Meads, the New Zealand great who passed away last Sunday, the All Blacks are threatening to be even more dominant than they were during last week’s 54-34 drubbing of the Wallabies in Sydney.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has tried hard to talk up Australia as a “very dangerous beast” going into the second round Rugby Championship match in Dunedin.
But even after replacing the 95-Test veteran Franks — who pulled out Thursday because of a troublesome Achilles — with the four-Test Laulala, the All Blacks should again be far too strong.
For while Hansen has talked up the wounded Wallabies, his real focus has been on demanding the world champion All Blacks atone for their sub-par end to the first Test.
After scoring eight tries in the first 55 minutes, a sloppiness crept into their game that allowed Australia to come back with four tries of their own.
“You’ve got to keep working, you’ve got to keep your attention on what you want to do rather than taking a big sigh and a breath,” Hansen said on the need to play hard for 80 minutes.
“The opposition are going to keep working so you have to too. Our attention went to the scoreboard … as a result of that we threw poor passes, our skill execution was poor, our defence was poor. There wasn’t too much that was good, really.”
New Zealand attack coach Ian Foster believes part of the All Blacks success stems from the Wallabies being too predictable with their game plans.
“They have been consistent with that for a couple of years, to be fair,” he said.
“We kind of expected to see what we saw in the midfield Will they change it? I am not sure.”
Hansen has largely kept faith in the same starting line-up apart from the late injury to Franks and the return of hooker Dane Coles, who has been cleared of the concussion symptoms which sidelined him for most of the year.
The Wallabies, plagued by attack inaccuracies and a porous defence last week, have made three changes, including the gamble of replacing lock Rory Arnold with Rob Simmons.
Coach Michael Cheika said it was time for Simmons to prove himself after being shown the door by the Queensland Reds following a disappointing Super Rugby season.
It is “an opportunity for Simmons to put his foot down,” Cheika said. “I think it’s time he puts a marker down for his international career as well in dominating that lock position.”
The other two Wallaby changes were expected, with Tevita Kuridrani in for Samu Kerevi and a fit again Dane Haylett-Petty taking over from Curtis Rona on the wing.
WALLABIES ‘WILL BE HURTING’
Rather than fret about their poor first half last week, Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has highlighted how their game clicked in the second half to score 28 unanswered points.
“We spoke (at half-time) about putting them under pressure and it started to work,” he said.
But while Kuridrani, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau showed they could stretch the All Blacks, by then the game was over and the All Blacks had eased up.
Hansen does not want a return of such complacency this week, with the roofed Otago Stadium offering conditions ripe for another high-scoring spectacular.
Australians “will be hurting so that will make them even hungrier than they have been … they’ll be a very dangerous beast,” Hansen said. “I would expect them to be a lot more physical than they were last week.”
The All Blacks will also be inspired by playing in memory of Meads, an icon of New Zealand rugby.
Both sides will observe a moment’s silence before the match and afterwards All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock, who plays in the number five jersey Meads wore for 47 of his 55 Tests, will present his shirt to the Meads family.
New Zealand scored eight tries to four and led 54-6 early in the second half.