The All Blacks — many of whom lived through the powerful Christchurch earthquake — will look to put emotional trauma aside as they eye a record 10th consecutive win over Australia here Saturday.
Last weekend’s 7.0-magnitude quake, New Zealand’s biggest in decades, left an estimated 100,000 buildings damaged in the country’s second-biggest city, even though nobody was killed.
Assistant coach Steve Hansen, who joined the squad late after leaving his condemned property, gave a rallying cry for the All Blacks to do their bit in the final Tri-Nations match to soothe a fractured nation.
“One of the messages I was given is if you’re coming over here (Australia) make sure the time you’re spending away from the people you love is worthwhile,” Hansen said. “It’s put an extra edge on the Test.”
The All Blacks have been untouchable in this year’s Tri-Nations series and are bidding to become the first team to win all their six matches in a southern hemisphere championship series.
New Zealand have made it an abject winter for Robbie Deans’s Australians, winning 49-28 in Melbourne and 20-10 in Christchurch to secure the trans-Tasman Bledisloe Cup for an eighth consecutive year.
In the process Graham Henry’s All Blacks have racked up nine straight wins over the Wallabies stretching back to 2008 — and 14 consecutive victories against allcomers.
Motivation is never lacking when New Zealand take on the Wallabies and even though the Tri-Nations and Bledisloe Cup trophies are already secure they will be looking to inflict yet another psychological blow against the Australians on their home soil.
But despite the one-way traffic, there is optimism within the Wallaby camp that they are about to finally staunch the losing run and give Kiwi Deans only his second win over the All Blacks.
That hope comes from the Wallabies’ stirring last-start victory over the world champion Springboks in Bloemfontein, when fullback Kurtley Beale landed a long-range penalty goal in the final moments to clinch a 41-39 win.
It was the first time Australia had beaten the Springboks on the South African highveld in 47 years and their first win in Bloemfontein for 77 years.
What impressed commentators was the Wallabies’ attacking relish to lead 31-6 after a breathless 25 opening minutes, before holding on to beat the Springboks for a second time this season and win back the Mandela Plate.
Although Deans has a less-than-flattering 20 wins from his 37 Tests in charge, the Wallabies are developing a creative and pacy backline, sparked by playmaker flyhalf Quade Cooper, who missed the two losses to the All Blacks through suspension.
“They seem to have a good spirit. In terms of their attack they offer a much tougher proposition for our defence than any other challenge we’ve had this year, even than against them previously,” All Blacks’ assistant coach Wayne Smith said.
The All Blacks have made five changes to their starting team with Aaron Cruden at flyhalf in place of Daniel Carter, who is recovering from ankle surgery.
Israel Dagg replaces Joe Rokocoko on the left wing, Piri Weepu will be the scrumhalf ahead of Jimmy Cowan, Victor Vito will replace Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker and prop Owen Franks starts in place of brother Ben.
Richie McCaw will become the most-capped Test skipper in New Zealand rugby history with his 52nd Test appearance to surpass previous record-holder Sean Fitzpatrick.
The Wallabies have made only one enforced change in the starting team with winger Lachie Turner in place of injured Drew Mitchell, who injured his hamstring last weekend.