COMPARED with the teeth-gnashing and caterwauling of despair we witnessed as New Zealand lost six of 14 games played during the 12 months leading up to this Autumn Test Series, the mood around the All Blacks camp at the moment is pretty positive.

The work of Jason Ryan, their new forwards coach poached from Fiji in July, is beginning to deliver dividends, with New Zealand bullying their way to last weekend’s 55-23 win over Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.

Meanwhile, former Ireland head coach Joes Schmidt has helped tighten up standards and provide game-plan clarity since stepping up from being a selector to attack coach in August.

And perhaps most significantly, there has been a conscious effort to recalibrate the team culture and remind everyone involved of the sacred importance of the black jersey.

“One thing we’ve really challenged in the last three months is just not being satisfied with where we’re at but understanding that in international rugby every team is getting better,” said Ryan earlier this week.

‘You have to tap into that legacy stuff, so having Sean Fitzpatrick and Zinzan Brooke at the captain’s run last weekend was a little reminder around what they achieved. Having that connection and appreciating what those boys have done for the jersey helps the All Blacks.”

As focus turned from Wales to Scotland this week, the importance of that relentless mindset – so central to the team’s unmatched success in international rugby – has clearly been foremost in the All Blacks’ thoughts and conversations.

This Sunday they face a nation who they have never lost to, and a team which is short on form, but there is a clear determination to treat their opponents with the utmost respect, as winger Caleb Clarke highlighted yesterday.

“We want to get consistency back into the black jersey,” he said. “It is not enough anymore for us just to win, we want to put in performances that we’ll be proud of and everyone back home will be proud of.”

In terms of the specific challenge posed by Scotland, Clarke pointed out that New Zealand very early came a cropper the last time the two sides met back un 2017, when Stuart Hogg came within a whisker of scoring a sensational injury-time try which would have tied the scores with a conversion to come which would have won it.

“We touched on it at the start of the week when Fozzy [head coach Ian Foster] mentioned how it could have gone either way, and it was Beauden Barrett stopping a try in the corner which saved the day,” he revealed.

“So, we know how much Scotland will be hurting from that and we know how much motivation they will have as a team coming into this game. So, that’s what we are building towards being ready for throughout this week.”

Clarke burst onto the international scene in 2020, providing a combination of speed in the outer channels with power and sure hands under the high ball. Injuries and an ill-fated dalliance with the New Zealand sevens squad meant that 2021 was a disappointment, but he feels he is now beginning to move forward again towards fulfilling his full potential, and the All Blacks selection panel obviously agree having started him in the last eight Test matches on the bounce.

“I’m just grateful to be playing again,” he said. “It was a bit inconsistent throughout the year with injuries, and then the year before that trying to play for different teams, so I’m just grateful to be out there on the pitch.

“And even if I don’t get to play, I’m just glad to be part of this environment because it is helping me grow as a player and as a person as well.”