Most descriptions of the Wallabies forwards carry strong elements of doubt. As Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie recognised this week, they are a “maligned” pack.
It has been even more so as injury has ravaged the front row, resulting in the sidelining of hookers Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Tolu Latu, and prop Laurie Weeks.
On top of that is the continuing conjecture over the rights and wrongs of McKenzie’s decision to still leave outexperienced and in-form Waratahs loose-head Benn Robinson from his squad.
Amid all the uncertainty, what is sure is that, if the Wallabies can’t gain parity up front with the All Blacks pack on Saturday night – let alone dominate – disaster looms.
Halfback Nic White, arguably at most risk should the pack he stands behind not hold its ground, believes his forwards are up for the challenge against “one of the most consistent forwards in world rugby".
“I’ll back them to the hilt," White says. "I’ll give them direction around the field. But they know what they have to do.”
But against a foe so strong, the backs realise they must be ready for however fast or slow the ball comes their way.
“We haven’t altered our game plan based on personnel,” says No. 12 Matt Toomua. “[But] every team has options off a slow ball, quick ball. It’s about delivering it. We have things in place to try to counter that.
"We know [the All Blacks] are very strong up front and, in a Test match, that is huge. They have a very set forward pack.”
Moore says the Wallabies pack will be fully aware in his absence of the need to deliver quality ball. "That's an area we've been pretty consistent in.”
Hence, he believes they can still “deliver good ball” to allow “the backs to play on the front foot".
Crucial will be No. 8 Wycliff Palu. Says Moore: "If he can play a dominant role the way he did for the Waratahs in the [Super Rugby] final, he will really help the Wallabies.
"There is no player like him in Australia with that type of size and dominance in the way he plays."
But the strength of a pack is in the collective.
With hooker Nathan Charles making his run-on debut and third Test appearance, and lock Sam Carterplaying his second Test after his first against France in June, it's not until Saturday's Test that a verdict can be cast on a pack short on experience.
But Moore backs them both, saying: "Nathan's been around for a few years now. He's got a good head on his shoulders and I know he'll be focused on just getting out there and doing well.
"’Carts’ I know a little bit better through the Brumbies. He's just cut out for Test rugby. We saw that in the first Test he played. He'll be well suited to this type of game."
Former Wallabies prop and Reds forwards coach Nick Stiles concurs with Moore on Palu.
He says Palu “has been his most damaging for a long time”, and rates the Wallabies back row. “Complimented with the finesse of Michael Hooper [with Palu and No. 6 Scott Fardy], it is nicely balanced.”
In the scrum, where the Wallabies are prone to danger, Stiles believes second-rower Rob Simmons will be ready to assume the huge responsibility that rests on him.
“He has really grown as a lineout leader in the past years,” Stiles says. “Having him control set pieces is very good. What has been overlooked is his scrummaging as a tight-head lock.”
How the front row fares will not only be reliant on their strength as a combination, but on how well the second row behind them performs, a fact Stiles believes “gets lost" in many assessments.
“A lot of it is going to come down to the work [Simmons] does at tight-head lock,” says Stiles, who also lauds Carter for his “enormous amount of work rate and being very efficient”, in his Test debut against France in Brisbane.
Stiles says the front row “has always been a battle for Australia”, but he rates loose-head prop James Slipper as “an incredible footballer” for his scrummaging and loose play.
And with Sekope Kepu at tight-head and hooker Charles, Stiles believes the Wallabies front row will fare better than many observers give them credit for.
“It has been well documented about his health,” Stiles says of Charles, who has amazed with his ability to play while battling cystic fibrosis.
“But for him a big turning point was doing his ACL [when playing for the Western Force last year]."
Stiles believes the enforced spell allowed Charles to “sit back, take a few things in and grow as a person”, and “through that adversity” he became a better footballer.
“And, importantly, he has a very good throw on him and is a very good scrummager.”
Former Wallabies assistant coach Tim Lane has observed the Wallabies from afar as head coach of French top 14 club Lyon.
He expects plenty of fire and brimstone from the All Blacks forwards, especially from those who played for the Crusaders in their Super Rugby final loss to the Waratahs two weeks ago.
“Probably the All Blacks involved in the final are stinging a bit,” said Lane. “We also have got a few front row worries. It’s like anything, you have to have a good base, a good scrum and lineout.
"I don’t know if that will effect them or not.”
But as Lane says, at least the players who have been called up by McKenzie are not coming into theenvironment cold.
“It’s not as if new blokes are stepping in,” Lane said. “They know the systems. They know what is expected of them.
"That’s important when you are dealing with a squad where you do rotate a bit or you do have injuries.
“Those blokes know what they have to do.
“I think it is going to be close, but hopefully the Wallabies will win it.”