Australia were the last team to beat New Zealand but the diverging fortunes of the two sides in the intervening 14 months means anything but a 17th straight victory for the All Blacks in Brisbane this weekend would be a shock.
The world champions played such relentless, ruthless rugby in their last two matches against Argentina and South Africa that even a confident, full-strength Wallabies side would be contemplating an uphill task on Saturday.
That is certainly not the case in the Australia camp at the moment, ravaged as it has been by a catalogue of injuries and distracted by malcontent flyhalf Quade Cooper’s allegations of a “toxic atmosphere” surrounding the squad.
The Lang Park test is the third and final encounter of this year’s Bledisloe Cup series but it was rendered a dead rubber by comprehensive back-to-back victories for the All Blacks in the opening two matches of the inaugural Rugby Championship.
There is still plenty at stake for both teams, though, with New Zealand two matches short of Lithuania’s world record winning run of 18 tests and Australia desperate to restore some credibility against their fiercest rivals, and perhaps save the job of coach Robbie Deans.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has confirmed he will travel across the Tasman Sea with his squad despite the death of his father this week, implying that Hansen senior shared his son’s firm commitment to their country’s rugby success.
“Dad would kick my ass if I didn’t do the job right,” he told reporters in Christchurch on Thursday.
“I was always going to Brisbane, it was never, ever in doubt. He’d roll over and shoot me if I didn’t.”
Hansen has resisted the temptation to tinker with his side ahead of the November tour of Europe with only the selection of Keven Mealamu as starting hooker in his 100th test perhaps a nod to sentiment.
Only three of the Wallabies who started the match in Australia’s 25-20 win at Lang Park in August last year will run onto the pitch at the start of Saturday’s match.
A fourth survivor, prop Ben Alexander, was withdrawn from the team on Thursday with a hand injury, joining such key players as lock James Horwill, flanker David Pocock, scrumhalf Will Genia and back James O’Connor in the treatment room.
Hooker James Hanson, a last minute stand-in for injured Saia Faingaa, would become Australia’s 12th test debutant of the season if he came on from the replacements bench during the match.
The Wallabies ground out a victory over Argentina in their last outing to finish second behind the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship and remain second in the world rankings.
Still, Australia assistant coach Nick Scrivener was widely perceived to have been clutching at straws when he bucked the trend of describing the All Blacks as pretty much unbeatable at the moment.
“They’ve had limited disruption with their personnel, they’re very comfortable with how they play,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald this week.
“We definitely have identified areas where we think we can go and play with pressure and those points are going to be very important. Where we apply that pressure we’ve just got to play well.”