Kieran Read, preparing for his first test of the year after recovering from back surgery, has acknowledged the importance of this first Bledisloe Cup clash against an improved and clearly fired-up Wallabies.
The All Blacks skipper is preparing to do battle alongside loose forward teammates Liam Squire and Sam Cane against Michael Hooper, David Pocock and Lukhan Tui in a clash which could decide the course of the test at ANZ Stadium and said his side were aware of the challenge ahead.
"This is a big game," Read said. "It's been spoken of highly in terms of the clash it's going to be. We respect what they're building towards. We know it's going to be a hell of a game and I can't wait to get out there [tonight].
"We know they're building a team that's hungry. They've had a slightly different preparation to what they've had in the past… but more important is how we turn up. If we turn up with a performance that we're proud of and we respect the opposition in how we prepare we should be okay."
Read's form for the Crusaders at the business end of the Super Rugby season as they swept all before them suggests he is ready to make a significant impact on his return from a significant operation.
The surgery released pressure on a nerve caused by a prolapsed disc and there was no guarantee he would return to the All Blacks or rugby in general. But he took his time in his recovery and that cautious approach allied with his work ethic at the Crusaders' Rugby Park headquarters has paid dividends.
"It's awesome, actually… getting an injury like I had, there are a few doubts that float around, but once I got into the process of recovery, I'm in a good space right now.
"I always had confidence I'd be back. Probably early on I didn't think it would be this quick, so I'm really happy to be here – to play the back end of Super Rugby and a test match is awesome."
The All Blacks held their captain's run at the picturesque North Sydney Oval this afternoon, while the Wallabies held theirs earlier in the day at ANZ Stadium.
The test kicks off at 9.45pm NZT – slightly earlier than the originally scheduled 10.05pm.