Rebuilding Hansen wary of Ireland threat
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen's first series in charge was always about laying the groundwork for a successful defence of the Webb Ellis trophy in 2015.
With the three-test series against Ireland already in the bag, Hansen's decision to make six changes for the finale provides further evidence that he is already looking three years into the future.
The All Blacks came worryingly close to losing their unbeaten record against Ireland last week in Christchurch, with an 80th-minute Dan Carter drop-goal enough to grab a 22-19 victory, but Hansen said the plan had always been to give the majority of the squad game-time during the series.
"Right from the word go, we felt if this series was wrapped up by Christchurch, we would make some changes and we've done that," Hansen told reporters in Hamilton on Thursday.
The Christchurch victory did indeed seal the series, but Hansen is well aware his side needs to play more like they did at Eden Park, when they won 42-10, than they did a week later to maintain their 26-match unbeaten streak against Ireland.
"How important is it? It's hugely important, it's expected for us to win every game from our fans and ourselves and we wouldn't want to change that expectation," Hansen said of the added pressure of having to balance the All Blacks winning record with introducing new players into the squad.
"What's happened in Christchurch is... we got a massive challenge last week from the Irish and we've got to step up to that challenge this week.
"Ireland have given us a good tap on the chin and said 'hey, you better front up or we'll take that record off you'."
Ireland were forced to make three changes to their side, two of which were enforced through injury after a highly intense encounter at Rugby League Park, with inside centre Gordon D'Arcy and No 8 Jamie Heaslip ruled out.
Paddy Wallace, who only arrived in New Zealand earlier this week, will replace D'Arcy, while Peter O'Mahony replaced Heaslip.
Keith Earls has also returned after missing the second test with a chest injury, though will play on the wing instead of in the centres, where he played at Eden Park.
Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll, who had said before the series began that he hoped to be in the team that finally beat the All Blacks, said they had not dwelled on the Christchurch result as they prepared for the third test at Waikato Stadium.
"If you wallow in self pity for too long you're not going to help yourselves the following week," he told Fairfax Media in the South Island resort town of Queenstown.
"We analysed the game where we went well and where we missed some opportunities and how we could have closed the game out.
"We can't have that game back but we have one last shot this weekend... so that creates a huge opportunity and motivation for us."
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg; 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Sonny Bill Williams, 11-Hosea Gear; 10-Aaron Cruden, 9-Aaron Smith; 8-Richie McCaw (capt), 7-Sam Cane, 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Luke Romano, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Andrew Hore, 1-Tony Woodcock
Ireland: 15-Rob Kearney, 14-Fergus McFadden, 13-Brian O'Driscoll (capt), 12-Paddy Wallace, 11-Keith Earls, 10-Jonathan Sexton, 9-Conor Murray; 8-Peter O'Mahony, 7-Sean O'Brien, 6-Kevin McLaughlin, 5-Donnacha Ryan, 4-Dan Tuohy, 3-Mike Ross, 2-Rory Best, 1-Cian Healy
Referee: Romain Poite (France)