At stake is the chance to gain a psychological edge in the lead up to the World Cup in September, as well as the immediate rewards of the Bledisloe Cup, the symbol of trans-Tasman rugby rivalry, and lead the Tri-Nations table.
“It’s going to be a huge contest at Eden Park,” said All Blacks coach Graham Henry after his side demolished an under-strength Springboks 40-7 in Wellington on Saturday a week after the Wallabies disposed of the South Africans 39-20.
Frontline All Blacks forwards Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn and Kieran Read will all be available for the Wallabies Test after being rested since the Super 15 series.
Wing Hosea Gear is also likely to play after being out with hamstring problems leaving Israel Dagg and Tony Woodcock on the injured list where they have been joined by John Afoa who fractured a cheekbone against the Springboks.
By bringing in the powerful quartet of forwards, Henry is aiming to firmly control the battle up front and dilute the attacking options of the Australian backs, in particular the halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
“They’ve got some players there that are very clever players particularly in the backs,” Henry said.
“I’m looking forward to that game. I think it can be a real test of our mentality, our ability to handle things that they do quite different from what the South Africans do because of the quality of their back play.”
Henry rated the All Blacks performance against the Springboks at 70 percent, saying it was an improvement on their season-opener against Fiji the previous week but there remained plenty to work on.
“Our kicking game at times lacked what we wanted to achieve out of it and the defence around the rucks can be improved.”
Springboks coach Peter de Villiers, forced to go on the Australasian tour with a B squad while 21 leading players remained at home ahead of the World Cup, believed his side performed better against the All Blacks than Australia.
“There were a few positives. Of the guys we have to add to our (World Cup) squad there’s some guys who put up their hands and a few who didn’t. So for me and South African rugby there’s a lot of clarity in going forward,” he said.
“We were much better (against the All Blacks) than we were a week ago. When we held on to the ball the guys looked very neat, but you can’t lose the ball at critical stages and give the All Blacks much needed turnovers.”
The gloss has been taken off this year’s Tri-Nations as the teams build towards the World Cup, and the All Blacks have yet to declare whether they will field a full “A” squad on their away Tri-Nations matches.
But assistant coach Steve Hansen gave an indication of their thinking when he said the Tri-Nations had to take a back seat.
“If we win the World Cup and didn’t win the Tri Nations, do you think people will be complaining about the Tri Nations?,” he said.
“I can’t see too many, and it will be the same in South Africa, same in Australia.”