After last Saturday's 36-3 walloping of Lawrence Dallaglio's touring team in Dunedin, it is hardly surprising the Kiwi mood is so upbeat. At a stroke the entire country has fallen back in love with a team who fell from grace last year under the stony-faced regime of John Mitchell and a reverential crowd of over 2,500 gathered for the open session at Waitemata rugby club, with some workmen even scaling the corrugated iron roof of the factory next door for a better vantage point.
The contrast with England's closed-door training attitude could hardly have been more pronounced as gangs of schoolchildren queued happily for autographs in mellow winter sunshine while the Royal New Zealand Navy's band struck up a medley of appropriate tunes, including Rule Britannia and the themes from Coronation Street and Mission Impossible. Whoever drew up the play-list was clearly having a laugh as well.
Beneath the bonhomie and fantastic public relations, however, Graham Henry's squad are also nursing a fair few bumps and bruises from the first Test at Carisbrook, with four players requiring treatment ahead of the coach's announcement of what, ideally for him, will be an unchanged side for this weekend's second Test at Eden Park.
The first Test was also physical enough for several players to require stitches. "It's the most stitches I've ever seen in a forward pack," confessed the full-back Mils Muliaina.
England, meanwhile, had everyone fit for their light gym session, though the full-back Josh Lewsey showed signs of Saturday's physical battle with seven stitches of his own above an eye.
As Muliaina also cheerfully acknowledged, however, New Zealand's players are seeking to improve still further on the impressive standard of rugby they produced in Dunedin. "We're keen to win both Tests," insisted Muliaina, who attended the same nearby West Auckland school, Kelston Boy's High, where Henry was once headmaster.
"After the game last weekend it didn't feel as if the job was done. We were happy but there's still a long way to go."
The 23-year-old full-back, who was born in Samoa but moved to Invercargill in the South Island with his family at the age of three, even claimed the All Black back-three were operating primarily on instinct in attack because the new coaching regime has had scant time to work on new set-moves. Judging by the threat they posed England last Saturday, that is ominous news and Henry is already relishing his three-quarter line's improvisation skills. "Sometimes it's difficult to tell what Graham's thinking but he has had a wee bit of a smile on his face," revealed Muliaina. "He'll be back to the drawing board tomorrow, though."
At least one former All Black coach, Laurie Mains, also believed England, who were granted the day off yesterday ahead of today's team announcement, were "given a lesson" in the first Test but suspected the visitors would provide sterner opposition second time around."England will be highly motivated and the All Blacks have to get themselves up again after what's been a very intense week," warned Mains. He does not, however, rate England in the same bracket as the side who lifted the World Cup last November. "There are a couple of key cogs out of that team and I don't think they're quite as good as they were."
Report from Robert Kitson - The Guardian.