The Wallabies’ stirring comeback win over Argentina and uncertainty around Michael Cheika’s team selection have the All Blacks wary heading into Saturday’s final Bledisloe Cup clash of the year.
While the world champions have already locked up the prized piece of silverware for a 16th straight year, the opportunity to set a raft of point-scoring records in a series clean sweep is driving the All Blacks to deliver once again in Japan.
Five-eighth Beauden Barrett says the All Blacks are preparing for a Wallabies outfit riding a new wave of confidence after fighting back from 31-7 down to defeat the Pumas earlier this month in Salta to avoid the Rugby Championship wooden spoon.
“We always get a confident Australia, there is no doubt about that. It is probably more that they have realised a bit of belief that may have been missing,” Barrett said in Tokyo.
“It was a great comeback and we have to acknowledge that and we are aware that they can play a good attacking game of footy.”
Veteran halfback Will Genia, one of only three survivors from New Zealand’s victory over Australia in the 2009 Bledisloe encounter played in the Japanese capital, said the Wallabies’ main focus had been on improving their somewhat flaky defence.
He said the Wallabies hoped to slow the All Blacks’ relentless attack at Yokohama’s Nissan Stadium, the venue for next year’s World Cup final.
“Not allowing them to play so quickly, whether it’s off quick lineout throws or quick taps. Playing at the pace that they want to play at,” Genia said.
“As an example, kicking the ball and we put it out, making sure we chase and don’t give them the opportunity to play the quick lineout.
“Also getting set quickly in the lineout so they don’t play at the pace they want, getting the jumper up quickly.
“Just managing the pace and tempo of the game and playing it in a way we want to play.
“They’re going to get the momentum, they’re going to play at that tempo, but making sure we have the opportunity to control the game in that sense as well.”
With a fractured ankle ruling Reece Hodge out, Cheika is tipped to start Israel Folau in the centres for the first time in his 70-Test career, resulting in a backline reshuffle.
Barrett says the All Blacks must be ready for whatever the Wallabies bring and whatever combination they face.
Both Cheika and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will name their teams on Thursday.