The all-conquering All Blacks arrive in Sydney on Thursday night to finalise preparations for Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup blockbuster against the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium.
Unbeaten in 2013, the All Blacks are shooting for a world-record 18th straight Test win in the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship opener.
But the Wallabies are quietly confident of ending the world champions’ remarkable streak after chalking up seven consecutive wins of their own.
Veteran centre Adam Ashley-Cooper says the NSW Waratahs’ breakthrough Super Rugby final triumph over the Crusaders two weeks ago in Sydney has also fuelled the Wallabies with the belief they can finally break New Zealand’s 12-year trans-Tasman domination.
But the 94-Test stalwart knows it won’t be easy.
“They’ve got challenges across the park from one to 15,” Ashley-Cooper said.
“Obviously they’re good from set piece. They’re good from anywhere in the field. They’ve got a number of key players that are huge threats.
“For us, it’s about nailing our own detail, making sure we’re all on the same page and that all the knowledge and understanding becomes second nature so we can go out there and just give it our best.
“We have to go out there and work hard for 80 minutes, work harder than we have before.”
After a vintage season for the Waratahs, crowned by a two-try, man-of-the-match display in the 33-32 final win, Ashley-Cooper is back in his preferred outside centre position after spending the three-Test series against France on the wing.
“When it’s all said and done, 13’s my favourite position,” he said.
“And that’s been off the back of the time spent there this year and just how I’ve enjoyed it, enjoyed just playing my footy, and I’ve done that in the No.13 jersey.
“So there’s something there that tells me that’s where I belong.”
Ashley-Cooper is one of just three backline survivors from the 3-0 clean sweep of Les Bleus in June, but says cohesion won’t be an issue with Waratahs teammate Kurtley Beale calling the shots from five-eighth.
“There’s a lot of strengths both in attack and defence (in our backline),” he said.
“So you work to those strengths with the mindset to go out there and give the All Blacks a good crack and you put yourself in a really good position to win the game.
“So I’m really excited by who’s in and around me.
“Obviously I’ve played a lot with KB at 10 in the majority of that 2012 season so that’s not unfamiliar, having him at 10 while I’ve been playing at centre.
“(Inside centre) Matt Toomua provides some really good options there both in attack and defence, and then the guys around me I know very well.
“So the partnerships and combinations certainly won’t be an issue going out there on Saturday night.”