ALL BLACKS coach Graham Henry rates the World Cup semi-final against Australia as New Zealand's most important match in a decade. Millions of New Zealanders would call that an understatement.
Many Kiwis argue Sunday's clash at Eden Park against their fiercest rivals is the most important match the All Blacks have ever played, the peak of 482 Tests in the past 106 years.
The match draws importance from the fact New Zealand haven't won the World Cup since the first tournament was held here in 1987; from the succession of errors, accidents and upsets that have seen them fail despite their frequent favouritism at five intervening tournaments; from the crushing disappointment of their quarter-final defeat by France four years ago; and from the heightened expectation because the tournament is once again on home soil.
Nor are the Wallabies without burdens. They are the Tri-Nations champions and have every reason to consider themselves equal to the All Blacks. They're young and have a chance to become the first team to win the World Cup three times.
They also have to contend with a doubt over full-back Kurtley Beale, who will have a fitness test tomorrow, and they haven't won at Eden Park since 1986: 10 of the starting XV named for Sunday's match weren't born when Australia last won in Auckland.
Quade Cooper will be marking Aaron Cruden, the third-choice fly-half, after star playmaker Dan Carter and his understudy Colin Slade were ruled out of the tournament. That has heightened concern among Kiwis.
None of the All Blacks are unaware of that tension but few among them carry more pressure than coaches Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, who also led the All Blacks in their ill-fated cup excursion in 2007.
And Henry is keen to rectify that loss with victory on home turf.
"We want to win this cup," he said. "If you're not focused now you'll never be focused. The guys are a bit quieter than usual, probably because it's such a huge game, the biggest game these guys have played in 10 years."
New Zealand: I Dagg; C Jane, C Smith, M Nonu, R Kahui; A Cruden, P Weepu; K Read, R McCaw (capt), J Kaino, B Thorn, S Whitelock, O Franks, K Mealamu, T Woodcock. Reserves: A Hore, B Franks, A Williams, V Vito, A Ellis, S Donald, SB Williams.
Australia: K Beale (or A Ashley-Cooper); J O'Connor, A Ashley-Cooper (or A Fainga'a), P McCabe, D Ioane; Q Cooper, W Genia; R Samo, D Pocock, R Elsom, J Horwill (captain), D Vickerman, B Alexander, S Moore, S Kepu. Reserves: T Polota Nau, J Slipper, R Simmons, B McCalman, L Burgess, B Barnes, A Fainga'a (or R Horne).