THE Wallabies are buoyant after repeatedly peaking at the right time during the Wales Test series, but know they are still well short of what is required to be confident of beating the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium tonight.
Wallabies captain David Pocock yesterday called on his teammates to lift their game and make full use of home-ground advantage.
The Australian Rugby Union has certainly applied the pressure on the Wallabies by focusing its marketing campaign around how it has been a barren decade since they last won the Bledisloe Cup, and that the task may be easier as they are playing two of the three Tests at home.
No wonder Wallabies coach Robbie Deans was provoked into commenting over whether it had been too long since the team had shown off the cup. ''Clearly it's time,'' Deans said.
At least the Wallabies head into the series with some of the attributes needed for trans-Tasman success. After the blip against Scotland in Newcastle, the Wallabies rebounded brilliantly against Wales, one of the best northern hemisphere teams to tour Australia in decades, winning the series 3-0. What was most encouraging was the team's ability to play at their best near the end of each Test and withstand pressure, showing the squad's level of conditioning had improved markedly.
The sign of a good side is that they consistently win the tight ones, and several close victories had the desired effect of boosting the Wallabies' spirits.
''We took confidence out of that series,'' Pocock said. ''As a team you want to win those arm-wrestles right at the end. In these Tests, we stayed in the contest and found a way to win.
''But the Rugby Championship is going to be a totally different beast, and we know those performances against Wales won't be anywhere near good enough.
''We just have to do everything better, and in particular we know we have to start better against the All Blacks. Our general intensity has to go up, because New Zealand tend to take their opportunities. Wales, in the first and second Tests, created a lot of opportunities and didn't take them. But the All Blacks do.''
As importantly, Pocock knows he will play a critical role in the outcome of this Test. The breakdown battle will be decisive, and with the All Blacks showing during the Ireland Test series that their intensity at the tackle is of the highest standard, Pocock's openside breakaway work will be important in providing a handbrake. As important will be how new Wallabies blindside breakaway Dave Dennis, and No.8 Scott Higginbotham, combine with Pocock.
But Deans also argued it is imperative Pocock gets a fair deal. The coach was irritated during the Wales series that Pocock was often held back by opponents after the breakdown so that he had no involvement in the next few phases. Deans called on the touch judges to properly adjudicate that area, as he believes the All Blacks, knowing how pivotal Pocock is to the Wallabies' plans, will try similar tactics.
''It's not so much at the breakdown, but what's happening long after the breakdown is over,'' Deans said. ''The ball is gone, the game is carrying on and players are being denied the ability to participate. It's the touch judges' responsibility because the referee, invariably, is watching the game, which is somewhere else.''
But one area where Deans is forever evasive revolves around his new opposing coach Steve Hansen. As expected, Hansen, in his first Bledisloe Cup battle as head All Blacks coach, has tried to provoke his old Canterbury playing and coaching partner with old-fashioned sledging.
The All Blacks coach this week had a dig at the Wallabies forward pack, and also suggested Deans made a succession of selection bungles during last year's World Cup. The inference was Deans no longer had confidence in World Cup five-eighth Quade Cooper, who has not been picked for this Test.
Asked about the comments yesterday, Deans laughed and said: ''Steve is a very good fisherman. He loves fishing.''
Hansen will keep tossing the burley in Deans's direction during the season. But the ever cautious Australian coach will keep spitting out those smelly bite-sized pieces of pilchard. He has been around too long to attack low-grade bait.