Coach Ewen McKenzie has challenged the Wallabies team to reproduce the sort of form that spanked Argentina against the All Blacks in Dunedin on Saturday.
Overcoming the world champions, unbeaten on their home turf in 29 Tests since mid-2009, sounds a near-impossible task for a Wallabies team that has won just three of nine Tests this year.
But McKenzie is having none of that.
“You’ve got to fancy your chances,” McKenzie said on Thursday.
“Hopefully we’ve bottomed out and are now climbing.”
McKenzie stressed the importance of backing up the vastly-improved performance the Wallabies gave in their 54-17 win over Argentina in Rosario two weeks ago – their highest-ever scoreline against the Pumas.
While they’ve already lost the Bledisloe Cup for an 11th straight year, the Wallabies will march out under the roof of Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night wanting to prove they’ve closed the gap after being well beaten in the first two Cup games and also twice by South Africa.
“You need to back up, play consistently and find solutions to win every game, which has been a large focus for us heading into this match,” McKenzie said.
McKenzie has promoted Matt Toomua from the bench to inside centre following an injury to his Brumbies teammate Christian Lealiifano.
Toomua started at five eighth in the first two Bledisloe defeats at the start of the Rugby Championship but will line up outside Quade Cooper, who has reclaimed that role since.
A big question will be whether they can maintain the free-flowing attack Cooper orchestrated in Rosario against stronger opposition in New Zealand – especially with the booing that will echo around the closed in stadium every time he touches the ball.
Having fellow five-eighth Toomua outside of him will ease some of that pressure.
“(Toomua’s) got all the attributes to play (centre), and we’ve already made it quite clear that we’re playing a first and second five-eighth arrangement,” McKenzie said.
“He’ll have a good chance to impose himself in the game in defence and attack.”
Whilst known for his stout defence, Toomua admits he’ll have his hands full against New Zealand centres Ma’a Nonu and Ben Smith.
“They are brilliant runners, and they also bring in (winger Julian) Savea to the attack,” Toomua said.
NSW Waratahs flyer Betham, who was struggling just to earn a Super Rugby contract 12 months ago, will play his first Test following the unavailability of eight other specialist wingers.
NSW skipper Dave Dennis pipped fellow loose forward Liam Gill for the final forwards spot on the bench, while utility back Mike Harris has earned a recall to the bench.
The Test will also be Will Genia’s 50th, just the third Wallabies scrumhalf to reach that milestone behind George Gregan and Nick Farr-Jones.
“It’s obviously very humbling. But to be honest, I’m concentrating on more getting a result,” Genia said.
Wallabies: Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Tevita Kuridrani, Matt Toomua, Peter Betham, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Ben McCalman, Michael Hooper, Ben Mowen (vc), James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, Ben Alexander, Stephen Moore, James Slipper. Res: Saia Fainga’a, Benn Robinson, Sepoke Kepu, Sitaleki Timani, Dave Dennis, Nic White, Mike Harris, Bernard Foley.