All Blacks coach Steve Hansen had at least three reasons to make just the one change to his team to take on the Wallabies in Auckland on Saturday night and try to seal the Bledisloe Cup for another year.
First was the rib injury to veteran loosehead prop Tony Woodcock, necessitating a change in the front row and resulting in the elevation of Wyatt Crockett to the No 1 jersey for just his seventh test in four years in the All Blacks mix.
Secondly was the need for this group to atone themselves. Yes, they were 27-19 winners in the series opener in Sydney last weekend with the result flattering the wobbly Wallabies.
But it was acknowledged by everyone – from the fans, to the media and the All Blacks themselves – that it was a rusty effort. The same players should be better for that hit-out, their first in two months since sweeping the Irish, and here’s the chance to prove it.
Thirdly the Sydney match was so stop-start, littered with errors and pedantic refereeing, that it didn’t take the normal toll associated with these usually body-numbing affairs.
That too was acknowledged by the All Blacks who have commented on the unusual lack of physicality in last Saturday’s encounter. So Hansen believes his players have plenty of gas left in the tank to back up this weekend. Even the bench was hardly touched in Sydney so there is dry gunpowder sitting there, unchanged since the last outing.
But all eyes will be on Crockett, including those of the Wallabies given his rocky ride in the All Blacks.
They will do well to remember that he was part of the starting side that thumped them in the corresponding fixture last year though, a
30-14 result that saw the All Blacks record a decade of dominance with the Bledisloe and set the tone for the ensuing World Cup triumph, completed at the same fortress a couple of months later.
Crockett is a hard-working prop who has amounted more than a century of Super Rugby appearances for the Crusaders. He has done his time and his inability to crack the All Blacks on a regular basis is probably more to do with the unwavering confidence the selectors have shown in Woodcock, the 31-year-old, 87-test warhorse who has been a rock of the pack and a cornerstone of the dominant scrum since 2002 with only rare injuries like these sidelining him.
With the beefy Argentina forwards to play in Wellington in a fortnight, the All Blacks medical team will be working hard to get Woodcock right for what will surely be a serious scrum examination at the Cake Tin.
In the meantime Crockett has the chance to prove his worth in a match of serious importance with an unbeaten record against the Wallabies at Eden Park since 1986 to be preserved.
If the All Blacks can provide a bit more polish they should be able to achieve that with a fair bit of style. They were dominant in Sydney but let themselves down with their precision work. More than a couple of tries went begging.
The Wallabies, on the other hand, hardly threatened yet will be heartened that they played even more poorly than the All Blacks but kept in the game right up till the last couple of minutes.
The match will be notable for Sonny Bill Williams’ last appearance in the All Blacks jersey and New Zealand before embarking on the next chapter of his storied footballing career in Japan. Will it be his last-ever rugby match here? Will he have the desire or be good enough to get another crack with the All Blacks after he goes on to play rugby league again in the NRL next year? Who knows?
It would be great to see him sign off in a bit of style though, with the sort of dominance he showed in helping the Chiefs to their first Super Rugby title.
The Wallabies were due to name their side later this morning, too and fly to New Zealand late tonight.
ALL BLACKS: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Hosea Gear, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Andrew Hore, Ben Franks, Brodie Retallick, Victor Vito, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.