NZ will look to up the ante to keep their momentum rolling for the RWC quarter-finals when they take on Canada on Sunday.
New Zealand will look to up the ante to keep their momentum rolling for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals when they take on Canada in Wellington on Sunday.
In a weekend that throws some interesting 'deciders' to determine which teams will be going home early and who stay on in the tournament, this David versus Goliath-like encounter is one of the few matches where the result is a given.
No offence to the Canadians, but beating the All Blacks in their own back yard is one of the rarest achievements in world rugby. Doing it on four days preparation and a coming off a 23-all draw with lowly-ranked Japan, makes it almost impossible.
Across 107 years, New Zealand have lost just 37 matches at home (that's about once every three years) and their last loss in All Blacks country was in 2009 against the Springboks.
The challenge doesn't stop there for the Canucks.
New Zealand, who have already assured their place in the last eight, have scored at least 60 points in each of their last three meetings with Canada who have never beaten the All Blacks in four attempts.
It's the third time the two countries have played each other at a World Cup – the previous two were the 1991 (29-13) and 2003 (68-6) events – whilst their last meeting ended in a 64-13 victory for the All Blacks four years ago.
So with an upset win pretty much ruled out, the only goal Kieran Crowley's team can target is finishing third in Pool A. The team which finishes third in each group will earn automatic entry for the 2015 World Cup, so there's a lot riding on the last weekend of Pool matches.
The Canadians have a win and a draw and are in third place now. But if Tonga upsets two-time finalist France on Saturday, the Canadians will finish fourth unless they can pull off the impossible on Sunday.
Simply beating the mighty All Blacks won't be enough, Canada must also score at least four tries to get a bonus point. Given that their hosts have conceded just four tries in their first three games combined, it'll be a tough task.
“The biggest thing was getting over the mental hurdle of them being a team that, as long as you've played rugby, you've known about them and how good they are,” said Canada skipper Pat Riordan.
“But playing them in the game you realise they are human and they go down (in the tackle) just the same (so) … you've got to approach it just like every other game.
“It's a memory we're all going to have for a long time, so the onus on us is to make it a good memory.”
Though weary and nursing injuries, former All Black Crowley has stuck to his policy of fielding his strongest available line-up for every match at the Rugby World Cup by naming a full-strength side. This means that five members of Canada's 30-man squad will not even suit up at the tournament.
With a quarter-finals spot already in the bank (which will likely be against Argentina), New Zealand have less incentive to field their top squad against Canada. The All Blacks have secured the maximum 15 points in their first three games and are five points clear of France for the group lead.
However, despite the All Blacks currently in cruise mode, coach Graham Henry isn't prepared to take his foot off the pedal and has included several big guns in his team to tackle the Canucks, including Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.
“It's important that a lot of the key guys continue to play and build a bit of momentum going into the quarter-final,” said All Blacks fly-half Carter.
Despite having held down the top spot in the IRB rankings continuously since November 2009, the All Blacks aren't taking Canada – ranked 12th in the world – lightly.
“(The Canadians) will be looking to perform on a big stage I'd suggest. It won't be what people expect, I think it'll be competitive,” New Zealand assistant coach Wayne Smith said.
“They are a team that plays very structured. If you have a look at them they definitely have sequences of their set pieces that are well structured and well played and they are not going to roll over, I can guarantee that.”
Hmmm… we agree with Smith that Canada won't roll over. Flattened maybe -and we can guarantee that!
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: Back for his 99th All Blacks cap, 31-year-old Mils Muliaina will want to get the coaches' attention against the lowly-ranked Canadians. The in-form Israel Dagg has made a strong statement with his last three Test matches and Muliaina will be determined to match it on Sunday in what could very well be last chance saloon for the veteran full-back.
For Canada: Wing Phil Mackenzie has impressed with his pace, power and eye for the tryline – scoring the match-winner against Tonga, and speeding over for a vital try against Japan. The 1.85m, 91 kg flyer can pop up anywhere on attack, which means the All Blacks will need to be on their toes.
Head to head: Canada will need to develop a rock-solid defensive game plan to cope with the rampant All Blacks, especially in midfield where centre partners Sonny Bill Williams and Conrad Smith must be contained by opposite numbers Ryan Smith and DTH Van Der Merwe in order to keep New Zealand from racking up a cricket score. Edinburgh wing Van Der Merwe has been preferred in the Canada midfield and offers them a sharper attacking edge, but it's on defence where Canada will really need him to fire.
2007: New Zealand won 64-13 in Hamilton
2003: New Zealand won 68-6 in Melbourne (RWC)
1995: New Zealand won 73-7 in Eden Park
1991: New Zealand won 29-13 in Lille (RWC)
Prediction: The All Blacks to stretch their legs and win by 60 points.
New Zealand (revised): 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Victor Vito, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brad Thorn, 19 Anthony Boric, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Canada: 15 Matt Evans, 14 Conor Trainor, 13 DTH Van Der Merwe, 12 Ryan Smith, 11 Phil Mackenzie, 10 Ander Monro, 9 Ed Fairhurst, 8 Aaron Carpenter, 7 Chauncey O'Toole, 6 Adam Kleeberger, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Jebb Sinclair, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Pat Riordan (c), 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Ryan Hamilton, 17 Scott Franklin, 18 Andrew Tiedemann, 19 Tyler Hotson, 20 Nanyak Dala, 21 Sean White, 22 Nathan Hirayama.
Date: Sunday, October 1
Venue: Wellington Regional Stadium
Kick-off: 15:30 (02:30 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)