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DURBAN, (Reuters) - New Zealand captain Kieran Read says his side go into Saturday’s final Rugby Championship clash against South Africa in Durban with “clear heads” after a tough week in which scrumhalf Aaron Smith was sent home.
Smith received a one-match suspension from New Zealand Rugby after admitting he had a liaison with a female in a disabled toilet while on team duty at Christchurch airport last month.
Read avoided referring directly to the incident at his captain’s news conference in Durban on Friday, but said the team were feeling no ill-effects of their hectic travel schedule and the loss of their regular number nine.
“It’s nice to get to Friday and just know we have to put the finishing touches to the preparation and go into tomorrow with clear heads,” Read said.
“We just need to turn up and play our brand of rugby. Right now we are in a good space.”
The All Blacks are chasing a 17th test win in a row, which would equal a record mark for top-tier rugby nation they have achieved twice before.
“History suggests it’s pretty tough to move past this level where we are at now,” Read said. “We want to go and get 17, but you can’t be thinking about records once you are on the field.”
Read disagrees with former All Black World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry that the Boks are on a downward spiral, despite a difficult year for the side in which they have lost three times in the Rugby Championship.
“Graham Henry likes making remarks about opposition teams to be honest,” Read said with a chuckle. “We truly respect them. The history of our two teams, we know how much it means to put on the Springbok jumper, which is the same as the All Black jumper for us.”
The number eight said the All Blacks were expecting a fast match and are ready for a physical forward challenge.
“We have got our plan to play a really quick game and as a forward pack I think the most important thing is to be physical with the South Africans. They have a gun kicker in Morne (Steyn) who can slot them from anywhere. So if we give them opportunities we will be facing a scoreboard that is ticking over against us.”
Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond