All Blacks skipper 'prickly' on eve of crunch Wallabies Test

by Chris FOLEY
Kieran Read will lead New Zealand's fightback in the second Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia

All Blacks captain Kieran Read warned he was in a "prickly" mood Friday as he demanded a marked improvement in discipline and defence for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup decider against the Wallabies in Auckland.

At stake is not only the All Blacks' 16-year grip on the cup, but also the defence of a phenomenal record at Eden Park where they have not been beaten in 42 Tests since 1994.

Another Australian triumph would also mark the first time since 2011 that the All Blacks have lost two matches in a row and, after their recent draw with South Africa, it would be the first time in 260 Tests since 1998 they have gone three successive matches without a win.

Wallabies' coach Michael Cheika has stuck with his winning formula from Sydney a week ago, while the All Blacks are still tinkering with their preferred line-up.

Read cut a stern figure as he led the All Blacks through the captain's run pre-game training session on Friday.

Referring to his "prickly nature", the All Blacks skipper said: "If you don't do that you're not going to get a response.

"It's a do-or-die game... it's our discipline and our ability to defend early that's going to be key. They put pressure on us through that last week so we have to respond."

Coach Steve Hansen, who will be marking his 100th Test in charge of the All Blacks, has been emphatic in spelling out his priorities with the World Cup number one and then the Bledisloe, which he suggested was a learning exercise.

"They're going to test our resolve to step up to the plate and we'll learn a lot out of it and march on to the next occasion," he said.

- Fortress Eden Park -

The Wallabies have not won at Eden Park in 18 games over the past 33 years, a dismal statistic which coach Michael Cheika has turned into a challenge.

"There's no point in hiding from it," he said.

"We know that that's a big challenge but if you want to make change, one person has got to say, 'Okay, this is going to change'. Then the next person will join in and the next person will join in.

"You're allowed to understand the history of the event and also the game, the trophy and also the venue, to make it ultra-important."

Despite being outplayed last week, Hansen has insisted the situation was like 2015 when the All Blacks were well beaten in Sydney and bounced back with a five-tries-to-one victory in Auckland.

Australia, however, made sweeping changes to their line-up between the Tests four years ago while Cheika this time has made only one, with Adam Coleman in for the injured Rory Arnold.

Hansen has made five changes including the axing of the battle-hardened Ben Smith, Owen Franks and Rieko Ioane.

He used the word "dumped" but also said that with an eye on the World Cup they would probably have been rested anyway to see how replacement wings George Bridge and Sevu Reece, along with prop Nepo Laulala, handle a pressure game.

The Wallabies last beat the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2001, when they sneaked home 24-23 in Dunedin.

Kieran Read will lead New Zealand's fightback in the second Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia.