SYDNEY (Reuters) - The All Blacks are on "high alert" over the threat David Pocock could pose at the breakdown when they meet the Wallabies in Saturday's Rugby Championship opener, according to flanker Sam Cane.
Pocock missed last year's championship while on a sabbatical but was back to his ball-poaching best upon his international return in the June tests against Ireland.
"He's always a big threat when he plays," Cane said of his fellow loose forward on Monday ahead of Saturday's championship opener in Sydney.
"The way he continually bounces back and plays at a high level is pretty outstanding. It just creates an awareness - we're on more of a high alert than normal around the breakdown.
"In every test match there's always a big emphasis on the breakdown – whether it's their ball or our ball, disrupting their ball or trying to get fast ball.
"It will be a focus again."
The Wallabies have some concerns about their back row, however, with captain and openside Michael Hooper lacking match fitness after being sidelined with a serious hamstring injury since June.
Cane felt the abrasive New South Wales Waratahs skipper would have no trouble slotting back in, though.
"He's played so much footy for his age, experience is something he has buckets of despite being only 26," he said.
"I don't think it will be an issue. He has a big ticker and runs all day."
The world champion All Blacks have won the last two Rugby Championships without defeat and thrashed France 3-0 during the June internationals.
Saturday's match and the return in Auckland the following week double as the first two of the three tests in the Bledisloe Cup series.
The All Blacks have held the trophy since 2003 but coach New Zealand Steve Hansen said last week the Wallabies were "favourites" to win it back, a claim dismissed as mind games from pundits on both sides of the Tasman sea.
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith was also a bit non-plussed by the coach's call but felt his team were lucky to retain the trophy last year after they needed a last-minute try to stave off defeat in the second test in Dunedin.
"I'm not sure what Steve was meaning by that," said Smith.
"But, um ... he was probably just making awareness about how good this Australian team is. As players we know that and we're excited by this challenge."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)