The reset season following the World Cup in Japan was supposed to be the one that brought Australian rugby competitively closer to our Kiwi rivals.
All the focus might be on the Barbarians stars and Richie McCaw, but a fair few All Blacks will be quelling Test match-like nerves as they run onto Twickenham for Saturday’s tour finale.
At least half the All Blacks side have points to prove at the end of what the coaches dubbed a six-week “selection tour”.
For first five-eighth Stephen Donald and tighthead prop John Afoa, it’s their first start of the tour after several bench cameos while others have really only had the scrum-and-kickfest against Italy to show their wares.
For the likes of Donald, Brendon Leonard, Rodney So’oialo, Liam Messam, Jason Eaton and Afoa, it’s a chance to ensure the red pen doesn’t hover over their names before the summer break.
So’oialo, 30, is the interesting figure in the side, with the 62-Test All Black having been clearly overtaken by Kieran Read in the No.8 pecking order after a frustrating year.
A heavy workload and a pesky neck injury saw him below his best, but he vowed he would fight all the way to retain his black jersey next year.
“It is a good battle. It’s easy to get into a team but to stay there is bloody hard. A true test of someone’s character is how well you can bounce back from things,” So’oialo said.
“I’ve done that many times. I’ll simply work hard to come back next year and play really well in Super 14.”
The man who captained the All Blacks four times last year in McCaw’s absence, and also led them against Italy, admitted fatigue got to him after the Super 14 and he would enjoy his four-week break at tour’s end.
“It’s one thing I didn’t do that well this year, I wasn’t smart on the body. I’ve been abusing it for many years for the All Blacks and I probably didn’t listen to it well enough.”
The clear advantage the All Blacks have over the Barbarians – dominated by top Springboks and Wallabies – is the fact the second-stringers trained together for much of the six-week tour.
The Victor Matfield-captained Barbarians assembled on Sunday, enjoyed some social sessions and negotiated a first training that coach Nick Mallett labelled “a shambles”.
Still, with a big pack and the class of Fourie du Preez, Matt Giteau and wingers Bryan Habana and 60-Test All Black Joe Rokocoko, it’s no stroll.
A year ago the Baabaas, including McCaw, ran the Wallabies to 18-11 at Wembley.