All Blacks embracing their chance to create history
RUGBY UNION: The increasingly important mental side of the game, which helped the All Blacks to create history when winning back-to-back World Cups in November, has again been given full consideration by Steve Hansen this week.
Just as they embraced the pressure and expectation during the six weeks before the final against the Wallabies at Twickenham in the most recent global tournament, so they are embracing the chance to set a new world record with another significant victory over their near-neighbours.
The team is extremely keen to make it 18 in a row, and the fact it is at the All Blacks' Eden Park fortress - where they haven't lost since 1994 - and their last home Test of the year, only increases that excitement.
Hansen, too, played a different mind game in front of media when virtually naming Michael Cheika's backline for him. Hansen believes Quade Cooper will have a rest at a ground that has not been a happy one for him, a call that is likely to be met by a wry smile at least from his sparring partner across the ditch.
The Wallabies are due to arrive in Auckland late tonight.
Hansen doesn't want to provide the opposition with any extra motivation, so was careful to praise the Wallabies' abilities and the fact they had improved, in his view, since their two previous Bledisloe Cup defeats to the All Blacks earlier this year. The Cooper piece of information, however, he just couldn't resist letting out.
"I'm picking they'll play two big guys in the midfield,” Hansen said. "They'll play (Bernard) Foley at first-five and give Quade a rest for this one. (And they will play) someone like (Reece) Hodge or either one of the Fijian boys in the midfield to try to get some go-forward, which is probably something they lacked in the first two Tests.”
As for the challenge of going one further than they did in 2014 when the Wallabies halted their charge at 17 wins by drawing in Sydney, Hansen was in no doubt as to how the potential prize on Saturday would increase the motivation levels.
"I think it makes it an easier week because, once you embrace something like that, it becomes a challenge and this group has shown it likes challenges, especially big ones like this one. No one has ever done it,” he said. "We've got two choices: we can try to ignore it and enjoy it if it happens, or say 'yep, this is an opportunity'.
"We've chosen to say ... it's right in front of us so what are we going to do about it? That's got people's rear ends from the back of the seat to the front of the seat.
"The biggest adjustment is that we've actually acknowledged it to ourselves. It's something we learned about Rugby World Cups and the fact that the All Blacks is an environment where there is constant pressure. Once we embraced the fact there is constant pressure, that seemed to ease the pressure off a bit and going to the World Cup and saying 'this is what we want to achieve' out loud to ourselves, that became easier.”
Hooker Dane Coles said: "We're more aware of the history behind it. In 2014, we shied away from it a little bit but this year we've embraced it and are aware of it but we're not getting carried away. We know there's a lot of work to be done.”
Coles, a target of Australian provocation in Wellington in August when the All Blacks won 29-9, said his side would be ready for any approach.
"I know they want to come out and cause us a bit of pain and we want to go out and perform. That really excites me. Playing Australia, that's one of the biggest games in the All Black jersey. Playing at Eden Park in the last Test of the year (at home), that's a really motiving Test for me.”