Sunday morning’s Test against South Africa defined the career of All Blacks coach Ian Foster, whose job is on the line after five losses in his last six matches.
Another defeat will further anger fans and New Zealand’s rugby administrators and even a win may not be enough to save their skin.
Adding to the drama, the test is at the Springboks’ spiritual home of Ellis Park, where winning is considered one of the toughest challenges in world rugby.
The all-black captain Sam Kane said he was “desperate to improve”.
“We took a good look at the opportunities we missed and where we could be better. We were brutally honest with each other. It was never personal. It’s about learning from one person’s mistake so that the team can be improved.”
The All Blacks have lost three consecutive Tests and were all out in a 26-10 loss at Mombela last week, their biggest loss for the Boks in nearly 100 years.
Despite a barrage of criticism Foster is adamant that the team is moving forward and made just four changes in his starting XV for Sunday’s second Test in Johannesburg, with Richie Mo’Eunga replacing Beauden Barrett in the first-five , and props up Tyrell Lomax and Ethan de Groot and loose forward Shannon Frizzell are on the run.
Despite suffering a sixth loss in seven matches, the troubled coach remained positive.
“Everybody keeps those statistics. We’re not in that place,” Foster said.
“When you look at the championship, we’ve let go of the first one. There’s no good in the past. We know we’ve got some development [to do] As a team, and growth is always painful. At the same time, we aim to improve, improve, improve Ellis Park, and it would be good to do it.”
While a defeat could end Coach Foster’s reign, Kane’s position as captain will also come under further scrutiny.
He rejected suggestions that the All Blacks had “nothing to lose”.
“There’s a trophy on the line, we’re playing at Ellis Park and we’re desperate to improve and do better, so there’s as much on the line as there has ever been.”
First-of-five Richie Mounga understands why all black supporters have been disappointed and even outraged by their recent results.
While he respected fans’ right to vent their frustrations, Mo’unga said the team should ignore the ‘noise outside’.
“It’s very fair. The team they support, which usually gets results, isn’t getting results, and it’s fair that fans care.
“They care about our team and care about our results, but it’s also fair for us not to worry too much about what they think, because that’s what we have to do and listen to at the moment. won’t help us.”
The All Blacks can’t afford to be distracted as they try to beat the odds at Ellis Park and win, with TAB paying $2.70 for a New Zealand win – the All Blacks’ highest starting price in the professional era.