All Blacks looking to make early statement in 2023
All Blacks captain and flanker Sam Cane is keen they will hit the ground running in their Lipovitan-D Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Mendoza on Sunday (NZT).
Without the usual July series to build up for the Championship in non-Rugby World Cup years, there was more pressure to eliminate the early rust that can result in less satisfactory performances.
But speaking at the captain's run on the eve of the Argentine Test, Cane said the side was looking to build on their week of preparation and produce a good performance.
Cane said the Rugby Championship was essential preparation leading into the Rugby World Cup.
"We've only got five Test matches before the first game, but we'll just focus on this one first and foremost. We haven't looked any further than this game. We know it's as a massive challenge."
Local media were interested in the choices for the game, especially in the backline and the fact there were several players capable of playing in more than one position.
Cane said having those utility players was significant in a Rugby World Cup year because squads were a little smaller.
"But the guys mentioned [Damian McKenzie and Jordie Barrett] are pretty unique athletes; they've got some skill sets that allow them to play multiple positions, and that's hugely valuable for a team.
"Seeing Damian getting a crack at 10 [first five-eighths] is exciting. He's been going really well in Super Rugby this year and hopefully can continue that form tomorrow night."
The All Blacks were aware of the challenge Argentina would present in the rugby hotbed of Mendoza.
"As has already been talked about, there's a bit of history and rivalry built up over the last couple of years the more we've got to play each other.
"And being able to play Argentina in their backyard in round one, it's going to be huge. In terms of preparation we've been focusing on getting this one right."
He said the team had enjoyed a good week in Mendoza, especially getting out in the city, which was less 'full on' than Buenos Aires and more similar to New Zealand.
"We've had some awesome fans outside the hotel this week that we've had some photos with and signed signatures as we get on the bus each day, and that's been building as the week goes on.
"We've got a few here today, they're rugby fans, but they'll be supporting Argentina tomorrow no doubt. They're great people, they're friendly, supportive of rugby. I think when the game kicks off there's only one team they'll be cheering for."
MATCH DETAILS: All Blacks v Argentina, Sunday July 9, 7.10am NZT, Estadio Malvinas, Mendoza, Argentina. Live on Sky Sport NZ.