The All Blacks insist they’re match-hardened for the arrival of the Wallabies despite a breezy start to their international season.
The battle for the Bledisloe Cup begins on Saturday night in Auckland, with the All Blacks out to seal a 19th-straight series if they claim the two opening Tests at Eden Park.
New Zealand are yet to be challenged this year, running up a combined 219 points in two Tests against Fiji and one against Tonga: a sharp departure from Australia’s tough-as-nails series win over France.
All Blacks coach Ian Foster was a keen observer of the Wallabies’ first triumph under Dave Rennie, saying the win “got us more interested in where they’re going”.
“They’re trying to be physical. They’re trying to be confrontational. There’s certainly a desire to get involved around the ball and create a bit of a mess,” he said.
“They are a ball-in-hand team primarily (but) they look like they’re trying to do more on the counter attack.
“They want to play a skill-based game and a fast ruck-and-run game.
“They would have learned a lot from (the France series) and taken some confidence from that.”
Of chief concern is the Australian back line: a largely unknown quantity at international level.
Captain Sam Whitelock said his side noted the promotion of Jordan Petaia, at suspended Marika Koroibete’s expense, on the wing.
“They’ve got youth out there and Jordan is one of those guys,” he said.
“He’s played really well in Australia Super Rugby conference and took that form across to the trans-Tasman.
“You’ve got to try to cut down his time and space … that’s what we’re going to try to do. But doing it is one thing, talking about it is another.”
Like Rennie, Foster is entering his second season as an international coach.
Many Kiwi observers were underwhelmed by his 2020 season, which started with a 16-16 draw with Australia in Wellington before New Zealand retained the Bledisloe and scraped home in the Rugby Championship.
He said fans would see a “significant shift forward” from his All Blacks in 2021.
“I think there was 14 we brought in last year, new or one-Test All Blacks,” he said.
“It’s hard when you’ve got that significant percentage. It’s not easy getting that group to understand what Test matches are about really quickly.
“Already we’re noticing a real shift … even in attitudes at training. How they’re going about their work. We’re learning.”