All Blacks could have Springboks measure despite Wallabies threat

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James Mortimer     14 Apr 2014     Getty Images

Since then, things have changed somewhat.

One thing that hasn’t is the rise of the Australian Conference, spearheaded by a Force team is showing more than passing resemblance to the All Blacks themselves.

The Western Australians victory against the Waratahs, despite coming second best in most game statistics, showcased a tight unit willing to absorb significant amounts of punishment yet keep the necessary focus and edge to strike when the opportunity presented itself.

Backed by arguably the most mobile pack in Australia, the Force prefer skill over raw power as do most New Zealand forward units, a near 70kg weight advantage to the men from NSW meant little, towering Waratahs ball carriers were smashed back with intensity and sting that created hesitation for the visitors as the match progressed.

Again, an aspect the All Blacks pride themselves on, especially when coming up against South African sides.

The last month has been revealing, and Steve Hansen would probably have afforded himself a small smile when seeing two notable aspects as New Zealand teams have played their counterparts from the Republic.

The effectiveness of stopping the rolling maul has been noticeable, a tactic that looked unstoppable in the early days of the competition, but the coordination and technique of the Kiwi sides has shown their willingness to adjust.

There has also been the fitness factor, the Chiefs and now Crusaders have finished the stronger at altitude against hosting South African teams.

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer felt last season that the overall conditioning of the All Blacks was their biggest advantage, and he would not have been thrilled to see the superior cardiac output of the New Zealand teams come to the fore.

But while the Republic will bring a typically formidable challenge, it is the potential of the 2014 vintage of the Wallabies that points towards the most competitive Bledisloe Cup series in years.

The pedigree and class of the Brumbies and the rise and rise of the Force would excite, but there are some big questions that Ewen McKenzie will want answered.

His senior pivots in Quade Cooper and Will Genia are not sparking the Reds like they used too, while the Waratahs, despite that initial promise, boast many Wallabies who aren’t able to rough up opposition forwards as their near 940kg pack should.

Even if Israel Folau looks to be the most valuable asset in Australian Rugby.

Meanwhile while the Blues have a hint of enigma and plenty of promise about them, one cannot ever write off the Chiefs – while the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes are all in the midst of mid-season revivals.

Hansen knows he has a core of incumbents, most of whom are the most capped in their respective positions in All Blacks history, but regeneration has never been ignored.

Over 20 players have made their Test debut for New Zealand under Hansen’s watch.

The final international campaign before we enter a World Cup year looks as compelling as ever.