TOKYO, October 29 – The All Blacks and the Wallabies have a plenty of pride to play for in the year's final Bledisloe Cup clash here on Saturday, despite New Zealand's sweep of their three previous encounters.For either side, a win in the second-ever trans-Tasman Test on neutral soil — after last year’s ground-breaker in Hong Kong — will be a big boost for ensuing European tours at the end of their respective underachieving year.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry said the game "is very important for both sides as we look to gain momentum."
"As always, we are expecting there to be a lot of intensity and a real edge to this Test," he added.
The All Blacks shamed Australia 33-6 in their last Test in Wellington in September, stretching their winning streak against the Wallabies to six.
Henry, in charge since 2004, made only three changes to his starting line-up, bringing back 60-capped Rodney So’oialo to the number-eight position for his fourth Test of this year.
So’oialo, once a first-choice selection for every All Blacks side, expected Australia "to be more focused."
"It will be more difficult for us to come away with a win," said the Samoa-born 30-year-old, who replaced injury-hit Kieran Read.
"But then we are ready for the challenge and we’re pretty excited about it."
Steve Hansen, who has taken charge of offense in a recent reshuffle of coaching roles, said: "If we play entertaining rugby, that’s great. That’s been our style since 2004, playing rugby that we can be proud of and scoring tries."
It has been a sub-par season for the All Blacks with five wins and four losses in Tests. Their backs seldom sparkled and the forwards were regularly outplayed, losing their world number-one status to South Africa.
At the Tri-Nations series, New Zealand lost three out of three to the Springboks and won all three against the Wallabies.
Australia’s under-fire coach Robbie Deans declared: "These are two proud nations, and the players are proud to be putting on their national jumpers. I’m sure that will reflect in their performance."
He dropped 105-capped flanker George Smith and three others for Tokyo, hoping to add an extra edge.
Deans, who took the Wallabies’ helm last year, also reinforced their back line, drafting Digby Ioane and Peter Hynes on the wings. He moved Adam Ashley-Cooper to fullback, enabling Ryan Cross to slot in at outside-centre.
The coach admitted the All Blacks had been "consistently better."
"The most obvious point of difference has been the All Blacks’ effectiveness around the contact and their composure under pressure," he said. "Ultimately that’s what we have to master, what we have to be more effective at."
After losing five from six in the Tri Nations, Deans stripped the captaincy off Stirling Mortlock, handed it to flanker Rocky Elsom and bypassed senior players, Smith and Matt Giteau, to make Berrick Barnes the team vice captain.
The Wallabies want to end a 236-minute try-scoring drought against the All Blacks since Barnes crossed the line in the fourth minute of their first Test in Auckland in July.
"That’s something we’ve talked about the last three weeks – trying to win back a lot of respect," Barnes said, looking ahead to the Wallabies’ first Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland in 25 years.
He said that a win over the All Blacks will "send a message to the other teams that we’re fair dinkum (genuine) as well."