Rugby: 'It's definitely been hard' - All Blacks feeling pinch of epic rugby odyssey

The All Blacks have hit the final third of their three-month rugby odyssey abroad and the inevitable longings for home are starting to sting.

The Australian leg is now almost in their rear-vision mirrors, with the squad preparing to leave its base in Queensland's Maroochydore and make their way north, where they'll make a test stopover in the US en route to Europe.

Last week, coach Ian Foster granted the players - who left New Zealand on August 26 - a week off to rest and recuperate in Noosa, before they jump on the plane for the final stanza of their tour.

The squad and staff have been on the road since August 26 and still have over a month ahead of them until their tour swansong against their hosts in Paris on November 21.

With their minds briefly unoccupied by the laser focus demanded by a test week, thoughts have quickly begun to drift back across the Tasman.

"Right now we're supposed to be on two weeks at home catching up with wives, girlfriends and kids," says lock Brodie Retallick. 

"It takes a bit of a toll, but in saying that when we left we knew what to expect. The boys have been getting around each other, with plenty of Face Times. 

"It's definitely been hard in this little lull … we're always missing the family but a little bit more than normal."

That lull will likely seem a mere blip next week, when they touch down in Washington DC and begin their preparations to square off with the Eagles on October 24, who are fresh off an emphatic 34-15 win over Uruguay.

That game also offers an opportunity for the team to wash from their mouths the bitter after-taste of their loss to South Africa in their Rugby Championship finale that's been lingering for the past few weeks.

The last-minute 19-17 defeat snapped a 10-test winning streak for the All Blacks, who - although they may not have admitted it publically - would have harboured ambitions of an undefeated 2021 international campaign.

"We just need to be better [on attack]," Retallick insists. "We still created some opportunities, but didn't execute. 

"Then, at times we were put under pressure when we didn’t make a lot of gain-line and didn’t take the best of options."

Retallick was at the centre of a sputtering engine room in Townsville, where the world champions claimed the clear upper hand at the setpiece, particularly the lineout. 

Those aspects of the game are the traditional strengths of the European and UK based sides and the 89-test All Black realises there's fine-tuning needed before they pack down against Wales, Italy, and France in consecutive weeks.

"They put us under a lot of pressure," Retallick notes. "We need to break it down, but I've just got to be better there and call some better options and not be so focused on them. 

I’ll take a lot of responsibility there. It's something we're going to tidy up over the next couple of days."

"It's been good to have this time to look at footage, then go out and train it and break it down, so when we get up to Europe we can nail it."

Having emerged in good standing against their southern hemisphere rivals, the tests against the northerners - who they haven't played since 2018 - will provide another valuable litmus test of the team's quality.

"It's going to be massive in terms of understanding where this group is at and also growing our game,” says Retallick.  

"We played Australia and Argentina who are a similar style to us, then someone like South Africa who play differently to the rest of us. Then we go to Europe where they probably play a similar game, and it’s going to be different conditions – it might be cold and wet.

"It's going to be hugely important, both as a measure for ourselves, but also great learning for the squad."

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