The vitriol aimed at the All Blacks by their own supporters after they lost the Tri-Nations rugby crown to South Africa has the Wallabies on edge ahead of their championship closer.
The Wallabies and All Blacks clash here on Saturday in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon after the Springboks secured the southern hemisphere rugby championship with their 32-29 win last weekend.
In rugby-obsessed New Zealand, newspaper columns and talkback radio shows have heaped criticism on the All Blacks who had won the Tri-Nations for the past four years.
The selectors responded by axing five players for the final match against Australia and the Wallabies sense this has put them in the firing line.
”They’ve got a point to prove. When you make changes like that, and when you get the flak that they’re getting, they’re a much harder team,” veteran flanker Rocky Elsom said.
”When you see a team perform poorly one week, the next week they are usually much, much better,” added lock James Horwill.
It has been a tough year for the All Blacks who not only relinquished their Tri-Nations crown to South Africa but also their number one world ranking.
A further loss on Saturday would make this the first year the All Blacks have lost three home Tests and could see them slip before Australia to third in the rankings.
The one bright spot for the All Blacks is they have won their past five Tests against the Wallabies, each time coming from behind, a result not lost on Horwill who said the Australians were their own worst enemies.
”We have talked that we need to play for 80 minutes. That’s been a problem for us across the Tri-Nations. It’s been a lack of concentration and we are letting things slip a bit,” he said.
”I guess against the All Blacks we have lacked a bit of discipline and let them back into the game and they have taken their opportunities.”
While All Blacks coach Graham Henry made wholesale changes to his side, his Wallabies counterpart Robbie Deans remained loyal to his lineup which disposed of the Springboks 21-6 two weeks ago for their one win so far this year.
Deans also expected the overhauled All Blacks to bounce back. ”That’s the concern because they normally respond to that sort of criticism,” he said.
Among the changes to the All Blacks is the decision to abandon the experiment of pairing Dan Carter and Stephen Donald as twin fly-halves to give the team two kicking options.
Ma’a Nonu, who is not a tactical kicker, has been restored as inside centre which Carter said would make it easier for him to prepare for the Test.
”I’m back in that playmaker role solely … I guess it’s a bit of a more familiar role that I’m used to,” he said. — AFP