The All Blacks have been told not to drop their standards in a difficult final tour week as the second-stringers get one more chance in the spotlight against a powerful Barbarians side.
As frontliners Mils Muliaina and Cory Jane admitted their thoughts were increasingly on home, the squad were warned by the coaches to stay focused and show their respect for one more international.
They flew to London on Monday without Brad Thorn and Andy Ellis, who were both given leave to return home to their young families after the 39-12 win over France, while Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Muliaina, Ma’a Nonu, Jimmy Cowan and Kieran Read fulfilled sponsor’s commitments at the adidas factory in Germany.
Few, if any of the top side who were so impressive in scoring five-tries-to-none at Stade Velodrome will back up at Twickenham on Saturday, with most of the team who scrambled home against Italy in Milan getting their chance to say “don’t forget me” to Graham Henry’s coaching panel.
“We talked about it last night, it’s about respecting the guys who didn’t play. There’s a group who’ll get an opportunity against the Barbarians and they’ve worked hard to help this team win Test matches in this campaign,” assistant coach Steve Hansen said.
“It’s now the turn of the people that aren’t playing that have done the donkey work up until now to show their respect and prepare well.”
No.8 Rodney So’oialo, now clearly behind Read in the pecking order, will likely lead the side again with fringe men such as Jason Eaton, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Mike Delany, Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith returning.
The latter three had frustrating Test debuts at San Siro and deserve a chance to build on that against the Nick Mallett-coached Barbarians.
Long-time All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko and Wallabies Rocky Elsom, George Smith, Matt Giteau, Stephen Moore, Drew Mitchell and Will Genia are all confirmed starters, while others in the 22-man squad include Springboks Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez.
Said Hansen: “It is a Barbarians game and you’ve got to enter into the spirit of that, and we’ll certainly be doing that.
“Most of the people that haven’t played the last two will definitely be getting game time. We came over here to play well, to win Test matches but also to try and grow the depth. You can only do that by playing them.”
Hansen wasn’t aware of any contractual obligations to play their stars such as McCaw and Carter.
“They’d like us to pick the best team we can and that’s what we always do, we pick the best team to play the opposition. It’s an All Black team so it won’t be a weak one.”