Given the significance of the last three games the All Blacks played, and especially the two close contests against South Africa in the Rugby Championship, New Zealand need to start their northern hemisphere tour by getting the show back on the road against Australia in Yokohama on Saturday.
Australia have struggled a bit this year but they will be targeting this game and looking at it as an opportunity to get a bit more out of their season. It's a one-off Test, and they will be hoping to catch the All Blacks off-guard.
It is unique taking the game to Japan which, given the significance of the World Cup being there next year, will be doubling, for both sides, as a bit of a reconnaissance mission in understanding what the Japanese environment is like. Clearly New Zealand have recognised that by staying on for another week to play Japan, while Australia are also hanging around for some training.
The All Blacks management have said all along they are targeting this tour as a test run for the World Cup; but first and foremost, they have to look to beat Australia in the third Bledisloe Cup Test.
What the All Blacks need to show against Australia is some improvement. In the second half of the Championship they looked rusty. This year they have played some games where they have looked absolute class, particularly against Australia earlier in the season when they looked like they could score whenever they wanted to and the accuracy was there.
Their defence had been brilliant but it has creaked a little bit in recent games as both South Africa and Argentina managed to break the line; I'm sure in coming back and reviewing the season to date, defence would be No.1 on the All Blacks' list to sort. They've made no secret of the importance of their defence and they take great pride in that.
Given that, there will also be a desire not to cough the ball up at crucial moments. That's what killed us against South Africa in the Wellington Test match.
Sam Cane's absence will be a good test during the tour. He had made himself into something of an enforcer over the ball, at the breakdown. He's a real pest. He's not just quick, he's strong as well. The physicality he brings to that breakdown area is not always appreciated by fans watching on, but he is hurting people when doing his job and he gets there so quickly. The reason he damaged his neck was all to do with the disregard he has for his own body. It was probably his own power that resulted in the injury.
Cane will be missed, especially if Ardie Savea was to be injured. Savea has been performing very well and he also is a very powerful guy as he demonstrated during the final stages of the win over South Africa in Pretoria. This situation is huge for Savea and he can make a statement on the tour.
If you were Ardie Savea and looking at the month ahead, you would know you could finish 2018 owning that No.7 jersey. I'm sure that will be his mindset because he has been waiting in the wings for so long for such an opportunity.
Injuries happen, that's rugby, and opportunities occur for other players as a result. It's Ardie Savea's moment and I'm looking forward to seeing him play.
There's been a lot of comment about Steve Hansen's decision to select another group of players to travel to Japan to play against them. The main criticism has been that it devalues the All Blacks jersey. But looking it from the other angle, such a move builds more depth and uncovers some other players that we need to find out about. It's affords those guys a chance to be part of the campaign, what the All Blacks environment is all about and giving them an opportunity to see if they have what it takes.
If you were one of the 19 who are going to get an opportunity to wear the All Blacks' jersey you would be absolutely jumping out of your skin. For some it probably is a chance that might otherwise not have happened and, for the selectors, to see what those guys are made of.
At a World Cup every member of the squad will get a game somewhere along the line and there is a need to keep some players in cotton wool, in terms of not over-working them and having them play every minute of every game. Once they play, they play 100 percent; we don't protect anybody. But they've got to be managed.
It is interesting when you think back ahead of the 2007 World Cup when rotation came into the New Zealand Rugby vocabulary but they were absolutely on the money back then, only they were ahead of their time in their thinking and application. The public just weren't ready for it.
On the domestic scene, ahead of the finals of the Mitre 10 Cups for the Premiership and Championship at the weekend, I think it has been a fantastic year for Auckland to finish top of the table. I tip my hat to coaches Alama Ieremia and Filo Tiatia, they've done a great job. And taking nothing away from them but you can't get away from the talking point that the old headmaster Graham Henry is sitting in the background and it seems that every time he sniffs around Auckland they get back to where they should be.
It happened in Super Rugby when he came back from Wales and became a technical advisor for the Blues when they won in 2003. He knows Auckland rugby and its culture. He's a grumpy old headmaster and people are nervous around him and I think that's what Auckland need. It helps to know that someone of high importance is watching you, so you've got to be on your best behaviour and you have to perform.
That's what Graham brings out. And at the same time he's got that cheeky little grin and a sense of humour, so he also knows how to have fun. And Auckland look like they're having fun.
They've always had talent and flair but I think defensively they have been outstanding. Their structure, and the way they organise their defence, has made the difference. And the most pleasing thing about that is their urgency to get back into their defensive line, because that hadn't been there.
Auckland, by the way, should regard themselves as underdogs going into the final, for their own safety. They touched Canterbury up in their round robin game and Canterbury will be hurting from that. They will regard that as the main blemish of their season and we all know that you never, ever, take Canterbury lightly, no matter what happened last time out.
They're a good team as their record shows: nine championships out of the last 10. They're a juggernaut and they deserve respect.
So far as Auckland Rugby are concerned in opening the ground up for free admission, you would have to say that is a great marketing ploy. It's almost as if they are saying "this one is on us" after all the support fans have shown through some dark years.
I applaud that move. They are going to lose a lot of money but they could fill the stadium.
It will be interesting to see how Auckland's improvement, Northland's showing in reaching the Championship semifinals and North Harbour having just missed the playoffs, will be reflected when the Blues squad is named next week and in the way the side performs.
Perhaps Tana Umaga should have Sir Graham Henry on hand as an advisor.