Cape Town - Wallabies flyhalf Bernard Foley has dismissed talk of Beauden Barrett losing his All Blacks number 10 jersey as "internal mind games" from the Kiwis, and said the same trick was used before Dan Carter’s brilliant World Cup in 2015.
Foley delivered his view of the Barrett v Richie Mo'unga 'debate' as he also backed the defence of a new and untested Aussie midfield against targeting promised by the All Blacks.
"Totally confident," said Foley on Wednesday.
"No-one is a liability in our defence."
Speaking on a sponsor visit in western Sydney, Foley was just as strong in his expectation he'd be lining up against Barrett on Saturday night at ANZ Stadium.
Mo'unga’s stellar form in steering the Crusaders to a second Super Rugby title this year prompted debate in New Zealand about whether he’d displace Barrett as the All Blacks' number 10.
Though they were not the instigators, All Blacks coaches haven't gone out of their way to shut down the "chatter" - no doubt pleased with the motivation being injected directly into the veins of Barrett.
All Blacks coaches say Barrett, who has won the World Rugby Player of the Year for the past two years, has done nothing to warrant being dropped but the emergence of Mo'unga as a genuine option is a good sign for New Zealand.
But Foley is having none of it, after experiencing the same thing in 2015 when the pre-Bledisloe Cup "chatter" was that Carter may not even make the World Cup squad.
He responded by playing the house down in the Rugby Championship, and then the World Cup.
"I think it is more internal mind games," said Foley.
"We saw it a couple of years ago in 2015 when they had the same discussion about Dan Carter and Beauden Barrett, and Dan Carter won the world player of the year that year. I think it is internal mind games.
"I can’t seen why there would be anything different. He has been the stalwart for many years, he is the world player (of the year) at the moment, so I can’t see why it would be any different."
Foley said the key for the Wallabies to finally turn the tables on New Zealand would be to ensure they don’t start slowly, as they have done the last two years.
"The coaches have made a change, hence the trial match this year," he said.
"The last couple of years we have prepared really well but we were lacking game time and that’s why we probably missed the jump in those last two years, and that’s probably been the difference in the last two campaigns.
"We have definitely made a change because it hasn’t been good enough."
The Wallabies, added Foley, will enter the 2018 season in much better shape than last year, when they were pumped in the first half of the first game in Sydney.
Foley said he had strong confidence in the defensive work of the Wallabies backline, which will feature a new centres combination on Saturday night - likely Kurtley Beale and Reece Hodge. The All Blacks have already said they will “ask questions” in that area.
"Those guys, whoever gets the nod, have been working extremely hard. No-one is a liability in our defence, and their job is to make their tackles. We have to fully rely on them to do that," explained Foley.
"These games come down to defence. It is not how many you can score, it is how many you can restrict them to. That’s something we learned during the June series. I will always back our attack to fire if our defence is solid."
Though it was lost 2-1, the June series against Ireland contained plenty of “learnings” for the squad and valuable experience of Test rugby for young players, Foley said.
Foley said the painful reduction of five Australian Super Rugby teams to four - which he opposed as a Rugby Union Players' Association (RUPA) director - also had a “silver lining” of lifting the standards inside each province, given the extra level of competition for spots.
"We look at June series this year compared to last year, in terms of the quality of oppositions and where this squad has come in terms of competitiveness, that’s the growth of this squad and that’s the exciting thing from Super Rugby as well,” he said.
"We saw all teams being more competitive and pushing each other to be better and that can only be a positive for Australian rugby and where we hope to get to.
"I suppose that was the silver lining. Competition for spots is greater when you go down to four teams, naturally, and guys have to work harder and push harder.
"Even among Super programs, coaches recognised that they were going to have to train harder and be better prepared each week."