The All Blacks face their biggest test of Rugby World Cup 2011 thus far, a showdown with their trans-tasman rivals, the Wallabies. Despite entering the tournament as overwhelming favourites, many are predicting their downfall this weekend as they come up against the most likely team to beat them in the tournament.
Many have cited the All Blacks' World Cup history as a reason that they won't win, calling them chokers. That may well be the case, and incidentally, two of these chokes have come against none other than the Wallabies. However, history also says that the All Blacks are very hard to beat in New Zealand, and at Eden Park in particular, where they haven't lost since 1994, and haven't been downed by the Australians since 1986.
The loss of Daniel Carter was obviously a huge blow to their chances and the odds of a so-called choke shortened immensely when the news was announced.
However, the team still boasts many class players and are more than capable of winning, provided they use the right strategy to beat this Australian team.
This strategy is to play a tight game, smashing them up front and suffocating them.
While this isn't typical of the way the All Blacks play the game, it will most likely be the best approach to take, at least at first.
When the Wallabies beat the All Blacks in their last game before the World Cup in Brisbane, the win came from a lack of physicality at the breakdown from the All Blacks, and a tendency to want to go wide straight away. When they took it to them up front, the Wallabies looked fragile and the All Blacks came roaring back into the game.
So, it seems rather obvious that this is the way the All Blacks need to play the game this weekend. They have the most physical and mobile forward pack in the world and will dispirit the Australians should they be able to get on top of them early.
This isn't to say that they don't have good backs, but going wide straight away isn't the way to go, as it's far to predictable and easy to close down, as has been the All Blacks' problem in past World Cups. The problem with easy pool games is that there can be a tendency to want to do this, as you will get away with it against weaker teams.
By gaining this dominance up front, the job of Aaron Cruden will become that much easier, and the loss of Carter will become less pronounced. They will then be able to unleash the likes of Nonu, Smith and their outside backs. But only once they've done the hard work up front first.
They've done it before, and it's been proven. The second half of the last meeting between the two sides provides the blueprints for how to beat the Wallabies, how well they execute will determine whether or not they emerge victors.