The Hurricanes’ band of All Blacks says it is vital to carry Test form into a crunch point of the Super Rugby season.
Seven players involved in New Zealand’s 3-0 home sweep of England this month are in the Hurricanes’ starting team to face the Crusaders on Saturday in Wellington.
Defeat against the third-placed Crusaders would almost certainly consign the Hurricanes to a fifth-straight season without playoff rugby.
They are sixth but have played one more game than most of their rivals and will sit out a bye in the final round after playing the Chiefs next week.
Hooker Dane Coles says the stakes mean there is no chance of a come-down for him and others coming off international duty.
“We’ve got a bit of another Test match,” he said.
“Getting up will be easy because we’re pretty desperate to get a couple of wins.”
Coles was among the All Blacks’ best against England, along with blockbusting winger Julian Savea, while several other Hurricanes such as halves Beauden Barrett and TJ Perenara played telling cameos.
Coles, 27, says he is feeling more comfortable at Test level, having usurped veteran Keven Mealamu as first-choice hooker.
“To get three starts has just been massive for me. I’ve been around the environment for a while and I just know what to expect,” he said.
“I’m enjoying it a little bit more. There were times last year when I was a little bit nervous and let it get the better of me.”
Coles and lock Jeremy Thrush, promoted to captain in place of injured centre Conrad Smith, are key figures if the Hurricanes are to stand up to the Crusaders’ All Black-laden pack.
The challenge is likely to get harder in the second half, when the visitors will probably introduce five-eighth Dan Carter in his return to top rugby, along with world-class Test forwards Kieran Read and Owen Franks.
An attractive game is in the offing. No other team can match both teams’ average this season of more than 29 points per game.
The Hurricanes and Crusaders have played each other 26 times, the most common clash in Super Rugby, which includes four playoff meetings.