The New Zealand All Blacks are seeking their 17th Test win in a row when they play Australia Wallabies in Brisbane on Saturday Oct 20.
The All Blacks have prepared without coach Steve Hansen, who spent time with his seriously-ill father in Christchurch, before he died on Tuesday Oct 16.
Assistant coach Ian Foster said Hansen was still involved, adding that the team had well-established structures and routines that enabled seamless progress despite the disruption.
He said the team would show their support for Hansen by preparing thoroughly, while allowing him to have time with his family.
The All Blacks won the first two Bledisloe Cup Tests, which were played as a part of the Rugby Championship, won by New Zealand.
Australia claimed the final Tri Nations title in Brisbane last year by beating the All Blacks.
Rugby is thriving in Brisbane, due to the rising fortunes of the Queensland Reds Super 15 side. The Reds won the title last year and were the only Australian side to make the final series this year.
But the injury-hit Australians go into the Test without star winger Digby Ioane who has a knee injury.
More than 20 Wallabies are injured, including three successive captains. Consequently, lock Nathan Sharpe will captain the side in his final match on home soil – it will be his 112th Test.
All Black hooker Keven Mealamu will play his 100th Test.
Though this is a home game for Australia, they are unlikely to win. This All Blacks team seem destined for greatness.
They are seeking a record-equalling, 18 straight Test wins – the record is held by Lithuania, who have never played a top rugby country. Both New Zealand and South Africa have scored 17 concurrent Test wins.
While the Wallabies are ranked second in the world, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the team, the coach and the Australian rugby establishment.
ARU boss John O’Neill has just resigned, to run a gambling business. Many believe this will quicken the demise of coach Deans, who is unpopular with Australian fans.
Deans was a highly successful coach of the NZ Super 15 side, the Crusaders, but his reign with the Wallabies has been troubled.
He is currently embroiled in a public feud with star flyhalf Quade Cooper, who said there was a “toxic” environment within the Wallaby camp.
Last week, All Black captain Richie McCaw released his book, in which he says why he favoured Graham Henry over Deans as the All Black coach.
Though McCaw won five Super titles with Deans, he said Deans was under-prepared when he challenged Sir Graham Henry for the All Black job.
He also said Deans was unable to work with strong assistants: “… look at the record of Robbie’s assistant coaches, there’s quite a lot of turnover and fallout.”
Enforcer Wycliff Palu returns to the Wallabies, replacing Radike Samo at No.8. The tough Scott Higginbotham is back at blindside flanker, which means the Wallabies will be more abrasive in the forwards, which should work in their favour.
With Cooper injured—and at odds with the Wallabies—Kurtley Beale is retained at flyhalf, where he has looked promising.
The All Blacks have a family environment and have rallied behind the popular Hansen.
“We’ll be supportive,” said flyhalf Dan Carter, “as we always are when one of us goes through something like this.”
Peter Lalanabaravi has over 30 years experience as a rugby writer.
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