All Blacks coach Ian Foster is preparing to meet a confident and combative Wallabies side in the Bledisloe Cup opener at Eden Park on August 7.
While world No.2 New Zealand were making short work of Tonga and Fiji this month, Australia is battle tested after edging France 2-1 in a thrilling series in which all three Tests went down to the wire.
“The Bledisloe’s always a highlight of the year for us and we’ve been watching from afar the French series,” Foster said after naming his squad for the Rugby Championship.
“Plenty of drama and controversy, but it’s been a tight series and Aussie are probably feeling pretty good about themselves.
“When you get through tight games, you learn a bit about yourselves and I’m sure they’re feeling good about that.”
Foster managed to retain the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship in his first season at the All Blacks helm last year.
READ MORE: Morgan Turinui’s Wallabies work-ons for Bledisloe
READ MORE: Koroibete free to play after controversial red card
READ MORE: France captain called out for ultimate rugby sin
Havili class for All Blacks try
But a first loss to Argentina was a major black mark on his record and performances have often been underwhelming in the eyes of a demanding, rugby-mad public.
Foster, who is off contract at the end of the season, had some interesting observations about the Wallabies in year two under Dave Rennie – the man who replaced him as Chiefs coach in 2012.
“They want to play a confrontational type game, they want to do a lot of stuff at the breakdown to disrupt your flow of ball and if you’re not accurate there, you get into a bun fight,” Foster said, adding that lopsided matches against Tonga and Fiji were still valuable.
“We learned the formula about our ball carrying and our cleaning.
“We made some steps there and that’s vital when you go into an Australian series, because it’s an area that they clearly attack at the breakdown, with guys who want to have a crack at the ball on the ground.”
Foster also revealed that he had been specifically training with 14 men to prepare for scenarios like Australia faced with Marika Koroibete’s red card in the series decider.
‘An absolute travesty’
“I sent Brodie Retallick off the training park last Thursday,” Foster said.
“I was thinking he was going to come up and smack me because he didn’t think he justified getting a red card.
“But we work through those scenarios – and often your ability to adapt as a team is not so much dependent on your own tactics, it’s actually on how the other opposition plays.
“We’ve learnt the last couple of years playing Aussie with 14 men is not easy to do, because they’re very much a fast ruck-and-run team and eventually they’ll expose that… the French probably didn’t play that way.”
There were no real surprises in Foster’s 36 man squad, which will be captained by Sam Whitelock as Sam Cane continues to recover from serious injury.
It also features the return of senior halfback TJ Perenara, who had a sabbatical in Japan and flirted with a NRL switch before recommitting to New Zealand rugby.
“I didn’t really know whether TJ was serious with the NRL or not,” Foster told Stuff.co.nz.
“I wasn’t personally over-impressed that that played out publicly; I made that point to him, I didn’t like the senior All Black coming out and saying he was thinking of leaving.
“That’s all part of the negotiation ploy I guess, but ultimately he’s back.”
But Perenara clapped back at Foster in a rare deviation from public All Blacks harmony.
“We were genuine in all discussions, it wasn’t a ploy,” Perenara said.
“The decision to come back to New Zealand was a really tough decision because of how close we were to going to the NRL and back to Japan.”
ALL BLACKS SQUAD FOR RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
Forwards: Sam Whitelock (c), Asafo Aumua, Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Nepo Laulala, Tyrel Lomax, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Karl Tu’inukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, Tupou Vaa’i, Ethan Blackadder, Shannon Frizell, Akira Ioane, Luke Jacobson, Dalton Papalii, Ardie Savea, Hoskins Sotutu
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Rieko Ioane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Will Jordan, Damian McKenzie, Sevu Reece
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!