Motivated … Piri Weepu, standing, leads the All Blacks in the haka last weekend. Photo: Reuters
THE All Blacks are itching to stamp their champion status on the Wallabies in Brisbane next weekend.
Having backed up their World Cup success with an unbeaten run through the Rugby Championship and widened their gap at the top of the world rankings, the All Blacks appear to be in a class of their own.
That's a tribute to the way Steve Hansen and his new-look coaching team have managed to motivate the side to new levels.
They have succeeded in motivating from within their group a desire to not just maintain but improve standards, and that will be a driving force next weekend in Australia where they chase win No. 17.
The last time they lost was indeed in Brisbane in their final Test before the World Cup campaign. That will be a spur to this playing group, many of whom experienced that 25-20 defeat.
But they are equally moved to try to better what they have shown against the Wallabies this year with a 27-19 win in Sydney followed by a 22-0 victory at Eden Park to retain the Bledisloe Cup.
Dismiss any talk of this being a dead rubber. The All Blacks assistant coach, Ian Foster, said the team killed that theory last week when they buried the Boks in South Africa with the Rugby Championship title wrapped up.
"I think we showed in the Soweto game how much it means to this team just to perform on the day and to put our best foot forward," Foster said yesterday.
"This Bledisloe Cup game is the same equation. There will be some people say that we have already won it and maybe we can loosen up a wee bit but the reality is we just want to keep performing.''
With a northern tour looming with Tests against Scotland, Italy, Wales and England, the All Blacks want to get the business done down under first against a Wallabies team that has shown character if not class in recent weeks.
They ground out a victory in Argentina last week but will be buoyed to be back in Brisbane. Foster is sure the Australians won't be lacking motivation either.
"Historically, the Aussies have played very well in Brisbane. The last time the All Blacks lost was there and history is full of times that the Australians have seemingly been down and out and they've shown a massive amount of character and played really well against us under that sort of pressure,'' he said.
With no major injuries, Foster indicated a "steady as you go" approach to selection. There may be some tinkering but a foundation of their success this year has been built around minimal changes to the starting XV and cleverly integrating the new, young talent and maintaining freshness in key areas.
Foster said there was no reason why the All Blacks can't get even better. That was about looking at themselves and also trying to second-guess opponents.
"You have to focus on keeping improving things. It's about celebrating the successes and the things that are going good. But it's also making sure we keep the microscope on our game to figure out how could we improve it, what little things could we do a bit differently, but also what would our next opposition do to stop what they have just seen?
"There are a lot of very good people tossing ideas into the melting pot in this group."