With the Rugby Championship trophy and the Bledisloe Cup packed away for another year, the All Blacks return to New Zealand for a victory lap at Dunedin and the chance to tinker with selections in the dead rubber against the Wallabies.
A year on from a first ever series loss to Ireland and calls for Ian Foster’s head, the All Blacks have regained their swagger with a flawless 3-0 start to the season while boosting their case for a fourth World Cup title in France.
The All Blacks’ 38-7 thrashing of the Wallabies in Melbourne on Saturday was the latest statement win, starting with Scott Barrett’s bone-jarring tackle on Tate McDermott which created a try in the third minute.
Eddie Jones’s Australia bring a litany of problems to Dunedin, with injuries to key players and a continuing battle against indiscipline.
However, the All Blacks’ main concern is deciding how to fill out their World Cup squad while keeping momentum in the leadup to France.
“We are about growing our game, building, taking strong steps forward and treasuring each week,” said Foster.
“How we balance that with change is going to be key for us.
“The message will be clear that we don’t want to compromise on performance.
“We don’t believe a test match is ever a dead rubber.”
The All Blacks resolved a number of nagging queries through the tournament, with Damian McKenzie proving he can stand in for flyhalf Richie Mo’unga in the opener against Argentina.
Shannon Frizell locked down the starting number six spot through the tournament, while scrumhalf Cam Roigard also mounted a strong case to board the plane to France with an assured debut off the bench in Melbourne.
In his fourth test, Mark Telea scored one try, set one up and was a constant menace against the Wallabies.
With the Bledisloe Cup sealed for a 21st successive year, Foster may also hope to see what uncapped midfielder Dallas McLeod and Waikato Chiefs loose forward Samipeni Finau can do in Dunedin.
While starting locks Scott Barrett and Brodie Retallick played well in Melbourne, All Blacks staff will be thrilled that veteran Sam Whitelock emerged unscathed from his return to action from an Achilles injury.
Foster said it was no headache for selectors to be spoilt for choice.
“Because we want all our players playing well,” he said.
“There are some nice options there and … we are working hard to get the right balance.”