Kieran Read says the All Blacks have overcome their travel fatigue and are ready to embrace the hostile atmosphere at Kings Park on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Durban.
The All Blacks are expected to win at Kings Park this Saturday. New Zealand need one more win to equal the tier-one record for the most consecutive victories (17). They’ve won eight of their last nine matches against the Boks, and three of their last four Tests in South Africa.
And yet, when the coaches and players have fronted the media in Durban this week, they have gone out of their way to highlight the challenges facing this New Zealand team.
Coach Steve Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster both mentioned the short turnaround, as well as the challenge of travelling from New Zealand to Argentina, and then from Argentina to South Africa, in a two-week period.
On Wednesday night, Aaron Smith was suspended for misconduct and ruled out of the Test at Kings Park. The incident forced a change to the All Blacks’ intended starting lineup, and undoubtedly a change to their game plan.
On Friday, Read attempted to play down the loss of Smith as well as the impact of his suspension on a team gunning for its 17th-consecutive win. What Read did admit is that this week in South Africa had been the All Blacks' toughest of the season to date.
‘It’s always tough to play against South Africa, and it’s always tough to play them at home. What will make it especially hard is all the travel we’ve had to endure over the past week or so. I think coming off a hard game against Argentina will just compound things,’ the All Blacks captain said.
‘We only got into Durban late on Monday, so it’s been a short turnaround. We’ve had to work hard to ensure our bodies and minds are ready for what we will experience on Saturday.
‘We’ve been doing this [travelling to Argentina and South Africa late in the season] for the past three or four years. We’ve prepared in much the same way, and have been reasonably successful. So this week, it’s been about trusting in that process and believing that we will be in a position to fire on the weekend.’
The All Blacks are determined to add yet another win to their already impressive tally. Read, who has been at the centre of several famous victories in South Africa, reiterated how much his charges love playing in this part of the world.
‘It can be quite intimidating. South Africa are always physical, and playing in front of their home fans tends to give them a lift.
‘But we have spoken among ourselves about that kind of atmosphere. That’s what you want as Test players. You can feed off that environment. It can bring out the best in you.’
A win in Durban would see the All Blacks equalling the tier-one Test record. A victory in the subsequent game against Australia in Auckland would give the All Blacks the record outright.
‘We will take it one step at a time,’ said Read. ‘That is obviously a bit of motivation. We want to get to 17. It would be a great achievement for a group of men who have worked very hard to be in this position.
‘It’s going to be a massive test for us on Saturday. Going for that record, and against a team like South Africa who have the ability to put you under pressure … well, it doesn’t get much better than that.’
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