FAR from acknowledging that his squad could be lambs to a slaughter, Wallabies coach Robbie Deans says his squad is not daunted by the prospect of facing an All Blacks side chasing a record-equalling 17th consecutive victory on Saturday night in Brisbane. On the contrary, he says that challenge is the very reason they play the game.
''It's an exciting prospect,'' Deans said yesterday. ''They're not daunted. They understand they're playing against the world champions and the top-ranked side in the world. But that's exciting for these blokes.
''This is what these guys play the game for. They don't play it for the ease, they play it for the challenge.''
The All Blacks have not lost since the Wallabies beat them at Suncorp Stadium before the World Cup last year. On the same ground, the Wallabies will be trying to bring to an end a remarkable streak by a team that has only improved since winning the World Cup.
While acknowledging the obvious threat his squad faces, Deans was adamant his players needed to concentrate on themselves. ''Obviously we respect them but we also respect what we do,'' Deans said.
Even though the All Blacks have already won the Bledisloe Cup this year after beating the Wallabies in the first two encounters, a win would ease the pressure on Deans before the spring tour. That said, Deans maintained he was ''not concerned'' by the speculation surrounding his future.
''I don't expect that to abate,'' he said. ''It's just part of the territory.''
Deans has named a 30-man squad before the third Bledisloe Cup match, perhaps with an eye on the spring tour. Deans also maintained that five-eighth Quade Cooper was not out of the reckoning for that tour, despite his recent run-ins with officialdom.
''Not at all,'' said Deans when asked if he was opposed to Cooper being brought back into the Wallabies squad. Deans has exchanged text messages with Cooper since he publicly expressed his concerns.
Of Cooper's recent knee injury, Deans said: ''I understand he's had his operation and he'll return to running shortly.''
Of more pressing concern is his squad, which is likely to be finalised tomorrow for Saturday night's clash.
While winger Digby Ioane (knee) and Radike Samo (bicep) are in doubt to face the All Blacks, the Wallabies' recent injury woes have been somewhat eased by the return of several key players. Adam Ashley-Cooper has been cleared to play after missing the 25-19 victory over Argentina due to concussion, while Wycliff Palu could make his long-awaited return from a shoulder injury.
''He's been waiting for the nerve in his shoulder to fully recover but he's got it back to full strength,'' Deans said. ''He was a big part of that series against the Welsh and he's been pretty frustrated on the sidelines. But he's worked hard.''
Ioane is struggling with a lingering knee problem after the win over Argentina and his potential loss would be a major blow as he's the line-breaking threat the All Blacks would fear most.
The 31-Test flyer - who crossed for the match-winning try against the Pumas - saw out the match in Rosario but pulled up sore after carrying severe bruising into the game from a heavy knock in the 31-8 loss to South Africa the week before.
Ashley-Cooper's availability makes for a welcome selection dilemma as rookie trio Ben Tapuai, Nick Cummins and Mike Harris performed strongly against the Pumas.
Ashley-Cooper would prefer to stay at outside-centre - which would come at the expense of Tapuai - but did play wing and fullback in the opening two Bledisloe losses: 27-19 in Sydney and 22-0 in Auckland.
Dom Shipperley and the returning Drew Mitchell (ankle) would also be in the frame to start if Ioane fails to recover.