Down on experience, confined in backup numbers should injuries strike, and facing opponents looking to probe for any vulnerabilities, the All Blacks were prepared for the challenges involved.
Assistant coach John Plumtree said that process has already begun. First up, they know nothing will change with Australia’s reaction as they attempt to avoid an All Blacks Bledisloe Cup clean sweep.
They will be physical and looking to capitalise on the backing of a big crowd for an afternoon game.
At the same time, the All Blacks were concentrating on their preparation and getting over to Perth last week had allowed them to adjust their bodies to the time difference.
Plumtree was confident in Sam Whitelock’s absence that Patrick Tuipulotu, Scott Barrett and Tupou Va’ai were all good locks capable of stepping up to partner Brodie Retallick in his new leadership role.
Beauden Barrett was on hand for first five-eighths in Richie Mo’unga’s absence while the halfbacks TJ Perenara, Brad Weber and Finlay Christie all had chances in Aaron Smith’s absence.
As a coach who had worked with Ardie Savea with the Hurricanes, Plumtree said it had been fun watching Savea go about his duty as an All Black captain.
“He’s had to step up to his role, take on more responsibility, and it has been good for him. All of a sudden, he’s interested in everything that goes on. But he hasn’t changed. He’s relying on the other leaders in the team to go about their business and help him out and support him.”
“He’s doing it the Ardie Savea way. He’s staying calm, building into his week and focusing on what he needs to do and what his job is, and at the same time leading the team, and leading the pack,” he said.
Plumtree said Savea would have more experienced support with the All Blacks, as opposed to that he had with the Hurricanes and, he was likely to find the Test job a little easier, notwithstanding the pressure involved.
He said the selectors were not in a position where they could make wholesale changes in the absence of experienced players. They would have to make some changes at stages. With a smaller group for their extended tour, everyone would get a chance. And that was good for the players, he said.
From his forwards coaching role, he felt the set-piece play was going well, and there had been some good individual efforts around the field, but there was always room for improvement, and the group enjoyed being challenged.
“We’re not perfect by any means, and we know that playing away from Auckland is going to be way different, and we’re expecting a tough battle up front [against Australia]. We couldn’t score a driving lineout try against them last time, and neither could they against us, so there is a real battle going on out there.
“The forwards are having a good crack at each other up front, sometimes we win a battle and sometimes they do so we’re expecting pretty much the same thing on Sunday,” he said.