By DUNCAN JOHNSTONE in Melbourne - Stuff
Captain Richie McCaw admits the All Blacks treasure the Bledisloe Cup most but sees tomorrow's test against the Wallabies as pivotal to regaining the Tri-Nations title.
New Zealand and Australia clash at Etihad Stadium with both sides in good form.
The All Blacks lead the Tri-Nations table with maximum points from two scintillating wins over the Springboks and want to continue that against a Wallabies side who were almost as impressive in beating the world champions in Brisbane last week.
That has set up a hum-dinger here.
The All Blacks have beaten the Wallabies the last seven times and have owned the Bledisloe Cup since 2003.
It's a trophy they clearly treasure though they want the Tri-Nations silverware back from South Africa too.
Beating the Wallabies will be a big step in both directions making this a huge match for McCaw's men. They play Australia again in Christchurch next week before heading off for one test in South Africa. They know that now is the time to strike while the iron is hot.
"It definitely is (a pivotal match). If we could go home with another win under out belt, that would set us up pretty well for the game next week. Even for the Bledisloe … it gets one hand back on it."
Asked which trophy was more important, he didn't have much hesitation in saying:
"I think the Bledisloe probably edges ahead but if you get the Bledisloe there's a fair chance you have the other one as well. The Bledisloe is really important ... when you come to play the Wallabies that's the one you want to look after the most."
McCaw said this match was more about performance than the trophy cabinet though. Get that right first and the silver polish could come out later.
"Really, I think it would be a shame to undo the good work that has gone on in the past two tests if we don't put another good performance together here.
"It's easy to get up when there a few doubts about what is going to happen. But when you have had two good performances, it's a sign of a good team to be able to do that again and that's what we want to do."
He felt the All Blacks hot streak against the Wallabies was irrelevant just as the All Blacks had proved by reversing their three-match losing streak against the Springboks.
"I think the confidence you get is from what we are doing this year rather than previous years. It (winning seven in a row against Australia) means nothing. We have to prepare on the performances we have had this year."
He said that was even more relevant because of the way the new rule interpretations had changed the game. They would make the Wallabies more dangerous.
"They will be a different challenge and a tougher opponent to what we have faced so far. So we are going to have to be right on the job."
Despite their recent domination of Robbie Deans' side, McCaw said he couldn't remember an easy match and he didn't expect that to change tomorrow.
"Even games I have felt we have been in control against Australia you know they are good enough to take opportunities and make them count.
"When I think back to last year's games and before, it feels like neither team has really been out of it.
"Last year we were down by a few points in the first test and we had to get things sorted to get back into the game. Then I think it was vice-versa.
"The big thing in these games is that it is an 80 minute job. You have to go for the whole time."
He was comfortable that his side had the fitness to achieve that and felt it had shown out in all five of their tests this season.
"We pride ourselves on fitness ... we want them to be chasing rather than us in the end.
"The ball is in play a lot more now and we have found that even more than the Super 14. We have put in a lot of work for that. But it's the old story – when you have got the ball it's a hell of a lot easier than when you are tackling."