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Last chance saloon for All Blacks to remind home fans of their prowess

By Tom Vinicombe
Sam Whitelock. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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It’s not been a great season for New Zealand fans – especially those who have ventured out to watch the All Blacks play around the country.

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The national side has hosted five matches to date, with three of those fixtures ending in defeat.

In July, the All Blacks smacked Ireland at Eden Park to kick things off with a hiss and a roar but then fell to back-t0-back defeats against the same opposition in Dunedin and Wellington.

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An eventual win in Johannesburg undoubtedly had fans’ hopes up that the team had turned a corner but those who were on hand at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch left the ground disappointed following a historic loss to Argentina.

Thankfully, the All Blacks got themselves back on track a week later in Hamilton, avenging their prior defeat by crushing the Pumas 53-3 at Waikato Stadium.

Now, the team has the opportunity to square up their home ledger with their final hosting opportunity of the season before heading to Japan and Europe when they take on the Wallabies at their hallowed Eden Park fortress.

“It’s great to be here. This is a ground we love and to play your last Test of the year at home here feels good,” said head coach Ian Foster.

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Centre Rieko Ioane, who also plays his Super Rugby in Auckland, echoed Foster’s sentiment: “Obviously we as a team hold Eden Park as one of our most special – if not the – special stadium to us.

“We haven’t been too proud of some of our games that we’ve put out this year so putting on an awesome performance in front of a home crowd that we’re looking forward to [seeing at a] sold-out [stadium] should be awesome.

“If we can get that performance that we’re after, it builds us nicely towards the back-end of the year.”

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While the Bledisloe Cup is locked away for another year, the Rugby Championship is still very much up for grabs, with the All Blacks and  Springboks on level footing at the top of the ladder. A lack of focus last week saw the All Blacks cede their winning bonus point in Melbourne, which means their destiny is now somewhat out of their hands; even with a big bonus point win in Auckland on Saturday night, South Africa could still pip them to the post if they can bank a sizeable victory of their own against Argentina).

That just heaps even further pressure on the men in black.

“It’s got a final type feel, rather than a knockout,” Foster said.

“If you look at the state of the Rugby Championship, there’s a few unknowns, isn’t there? There’s some parts we can’t control because there’s a game after us, but there’s a massive part that we can control. We can control the quality of our performance and we know last week with playing against a team we’ve got massive respect for and pushed us to the wire. We’ve taken a whole lot of lessons from that and we’ve got to make sure we’ve learned from that.

“For us, it’s a big occasion and we want to make sure we just go out there and put our best foot forward and from our thing, we’ve just got to control what we can control, which is our performance. And then what happens after that, we’ll wait and see.”

Saturday’s match is due to kick off at 7:05pm NZT.

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