It rained in Perth on Monday – the black clouds forming somewhere over the Indian Ocean and dumping so much water on this pleasant and spacious city that the roads were momentarily flooded before all the water disappeared 15 minutes later either into the drains or the Swan River which curls around the central business district – grey and flat in the gloom and then lighter as the blue sky returned.
How the All Blacks would like a similar response on Saturday, a flushing of the previous two mistake-ridden tests this year against Argentina and South Africa and a walk back into the sunshine as Japan looms large on the horizon.
If anything is going to spark a change-up in levels it should be the Wallabies here in Western Australia because there is a proud record to preserve and a rather large trophy to retain.
With the Wallabies feeling like they have turned a corner with a hard-fought win over the Pumas following a poor display against the Boks, it will be fascinating to see how this one plays out.
Another loss for Australia will add to the pressure on the combustible Michael Cheika ahead of the World Cup. For the All Blacks, a loss wouldn’t be disastrous as a win seven days later at Eden Park would see them retain the Bledisloe Cup.
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“Obviously it’s going to be a big step up because the Bledisloe Cup means a lot to both teams,” Ben Smith said. “With our review, we saw a lot of opportunities in our game [against South Africa] we could be better at and as players that’s exciting.
“I suppose that’s where we can take our game to the next level.”
Smith, who played fullback against the Pumas and on the right wing against the Boks as he made way for Beauden Barrett at the back in Wellington, will want to go to the next level himself.
He has come in for criticism after his two Rugby Championship games but has played so little rugby over the last eight weeks due to a serious hamstring strain in Super Rugby that rust must be expected.
“To be honest I just enjoyed being out there,” he said. “I haven’t played a lot of footy over the last couple of months so I enjoyed being back in amongst it. I love playing the game so it was good to be back. I’ve definitely got some improving to do and need to take some lessons on board like the rest of the team is doing.”
Teammate and hooker Dane Coles has reason to be a little happier, perhaps. He was sharp as a replacement in the final quarter in Wellington and will be pushing Codie Taylor hard for a starting spot at Optus Stadium.
He too has had injury issues this year but is nearing his best. Like Smith, he spelled out the need for a big shift in levels this week. “When I came into this side one of the first things I learned was how important the Bledisloe Cup is and how important it is to keep it,” he said.
“I’m in a good place,” Coles said of his own form. “It’s a win every week I’m on the field and just training with the boys.”
As the All Blacks set about putting a few things right, it will be against the backdrop of the passing of Brian Lochore, the inspirational former All Black No 8, coach and manager whose life will be celebrated at Masterton’s Memorial Park on Thursday.
It will echo across a continent.
“I think it is important we do acknowledge him because of what he did for the All Blacks,” Coles said. “I’m sure later in the week… one of the boys might get up and have a chat and say what a special man he was.
“He did a lot not only for the black jersey but also for the people of New Zealand.”
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