We'll target McCaw too: Smith
Thursday, June 28, 2007
George Smith has suggested Richie McCaw could be in for another tough night at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
The All Blacks were unhappy about how their skipper was hammered off the ball in their 26-21 win over South Africa last weekend, but Smith said he couldn't see anything untoward in their actions.
"You have to play on the edge. I don't think McCaw was targeted by the Springboks intentionally," Wallabies flanker Smith said.
"We will definitely try to nullify him in the game."
The All Blacks disagreed, believing the South Africans concentrated on hammering McCaw in Durban with some underhand tactics.
Yesterday, All Blacks coach Graham Henry said he expected better from the Australians.
"There's nothing worse than being clobbered off the ball when you're not expecting it," Henry said.
"That's the worst thing in rugby and they are called cheap shots. That was discussed after the South African game, and has nothing to do with this game coming up."
Wallabies coach John Connolly has preferred to start the Brumbies' Smith ahead of the Waratahs' Phil Waugh for Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup match.
It is the first time Connolly has played the same No.7 in consecutive tests this season. Smith also started in the 19-22 loss to the Springboks in Cape Town on June 17.
"We think Smith played very well against South Africa and was pretty hard on the ball.
"He had very good form in the Super 14 and Phil did not play a lot of Super 14, he just had three or four matches back."
Connolly has made just one change to that starting XV. In a surprise move, he brought the Brumbies' Adam Ashley-Cooper onto the right wing ahead of Queensland's Drew Mitchell.
Ashley-Cooper is known more as a centre, and in this year's Super 14, he split his time between midfield and fullback.
After the All Blacks overwhelmed the Springboks' scrum last weekend, Australian forwards coach Michael Foley said the Wallabies pack was aware it must amend its technique.
"We have prepared specifically to scrummage a lot lower than against South Africa," he said.
"That's probably the biggest difference."
When the two teams last met at the MCG in 1998, the Wallabies won 24-16. It marked the start of a horror run for the All Blacks, who went on to lose their next four matches against the Australians and South Africans.
The All Blacks did not regain the Bledisloe Cup until 2003.
Seventy-five thousand tickets have been sold for Saturday night's match. The MCG has a 90,000-seat capacity.
Wallabies: Julian Huxley, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Stirling Mortlock (captain), Matt Giteau, Lote Tuqiri, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Wycliff Palu, George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Nathan Sharpe, Guy Shepherdson, Stephen Moore, Matt Dunning. Reserves: Adam Freier, Al Baxter, Mark Chisholm, Stephen Hoiles, Phil Waugh, Scott Staniforth, Mark Gerrard.
World Cup mistakes won't be repeated: McCaw
Friday, June 29, 2007
ALL BLACKS captain Richie McCaw has a worrying message for anyone expecting his side's victory march to falter when it matters most - at this year's World Cup.
The world's No.1 team has not forgotten how its campaign for the Webb Ellis Trophy failed in 2003 - and to Australia in that semi-final.
But as McCaw reminded reporters yesterday in the build-up to tomorrow night's Tri Nations and Bledisloe Cup clash at the MCG, the lesson has been learnt.
He believes there are enough players in this year's squad who were in the highly fancied 2003 line-up to ensure the errors are not repeated.
Asked if he and his teammates from the 2003 side that steamrollered into the World Cup in Australia with Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations wins had taken anything from their failure, McCaw said: "I think so. Me, and I know quite a few of the guys hadn't been around that long this time of the year leading into a World Cup.
"[In 2003] we started to play some good rugby and thought it was all going to happen. [We] turned up at the World Cup and it didn't. Sometimes the most talented team doesn't win it. It is the best team of the tournament that wins it."
Four years on, and the All Blacks are again favourites to retain the Bledisloe Cup and Tri Nations title and take the Webb Ellis Trophy to New Zealand to defend it as hosts in 2011.
But McCaw realises the All Blacks must keep their feet firmly on the ground to ensure complacency doesn't cruel their hopes of a second World Cup triumph to go with their first in 1987.
"Where we are now, we want to do it right, now," he said of winning. "But we also realise that what we do now isn't going to be good enough down the track.
"We are learning from last time . We thought perhaps we had the game that was going to do the trick and it didn't."
He admits it is a mantra he and those from the 2003 side will make sure is understood by their younger teammates. "There are probably 13 or 14 of us who were involved last time are still here," he said. "We will make sure the attitude filters through the team."
Saying that, chances are that at the MCG tomorrow, it will seem that McCaw is playing for his life and that the World Cup is the last thing on his mind.
The All Blacks are on a roll after defeating the French, twice, and Canadians at home, followed by victory over the Springboks in South Africa last weekend.
They had a setback yesterday, with fullback Leon MacDonald in doubt for the Test after he broke down at training.
The World Cup might be the long-term goal, but the Bledisloe Cup was still huge, McCaw said.
He has not forgotten the joy of being a part of the All Blacks side that regained it in 2003 after New Zealand had lost 3-0 to Australia in the 1998 series.
"It's really important," he said. "Outside the [World] Cup at the end of the year, it is the most important [title] we play for as a nation. We hadn't had it, when we got it back in 2003, since 1998. It's not an easy thing to get back, especially with only two [Bledisloe] Test matches in a year."
Given that, there was an emphasis on retaining it and the All Blacks get their chance to do that tomorrow night.
¡ Australian Todd Louden, credited with helping South Africa's Bulls win this year's Super 14 tournament, will be the Waratahs' new attack coach for the next two seasons.
All Blacks on their way to rugby greatness
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Related: All Blacks fact box
We know the All Blacks are very good but just how good?
What exactly will the Wallabies be up against on Saturday night when they set about trying to regain the Bledisloe Cup for the first time since 2002 - and then ultimately achieve more Rugby World Cup glory later this year in France?
Well, compelling statistics reveal Graham Henry's all-conquering New Zealanders to be the most dominant All Blacks outfit of all-time.
And arguably the most dominant team in history, full stop.
Last Saturday's 26-21 disposal of South Africa in Durban, after big wins over France and Canada to kick off their 2007 international campaign, have improved the All Blacks' record to an imposing 37 wins from 41 Tests since their heartbreaking 22-10 semi-final loss to Australia at the 2003 World Cup in Sydney.
In more than a century of Test match rugby, no other All Blacks team has managed to sustain such a consistent level of excellence over such an extensive period.
Only the champion England side - who won 33 of 36 Tests between the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, including 21 straight before arriving in Australia and winning another seven in a row to run off with the William Webb Ellis Cup - can challenge the All Blacks' record.
Twice before, from 1961-69 and again between 1987-91, the All Blacks boasted 32 victories from 37 Tests, but the current class - led by international player of the year Richie McCaw and influential flyhalf Dan Carter - have now surpassed both those supreme outfits.
During their golden run, the All Blacks have beaten every major Test-playing nation - most both home and away - and are undefeated against all northern hemisphere opposition.
In 2005 alone, the All Blacks completed a 3-0 sweep over the British Lions before heading to the UK and achieving the coveted "grand slam" with victories over England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Eighteen months on and they are riding a 24-Test winning streak in New Zealand and are odds-on favourites to retain both the Tri Nations trophy and Bledisloe Cup with further series triumphs over Australia and South Africa.
Their only defeat in 24 Tests over the last 22 months was a one-point loss to the Springboks in South Africa in September last year.
Yes, the new-age All Blacks, with a rare mix of power and panache, are enjoying unprecedented levels of success.
And coach Henry is doing everything in his power to make them bullet-proof, winning all but one of their Tests over the past two seasons despite rotating 49 players to ensure untimely injuries to any of his stars can't derail the All Blacks in their quest for a first World Cup in 20 years.
Indeed, the World Cup looms as their final frontier and, with success in France in October, McCaw, Carter and co can stake an irresistible claim to being the greatest team rugby has ever known.
And make no mistake, Wallabies coach John Connolly is acutely aware that it is going to take something very, very special for anyone to stop the New Zealand juggernaut.
"They're the No.1 team in the world and we respect them," Connolly said this week ahead of Saturday night's showdown at the MCG.
"To beat New Zealand, we will need to play our best rugby and do the little things well.
"You can't afford to give the All Blacks any opportunities because they have incredible talent across the field and have the ability to hurt you from any position."
Australia led New Zealand in all three trans-Tasman clashes last year, only to succumb 32-12 in Christchurch, 13-9 in Brisbane and 34-27 in Auckland.
But the Wallabies - the only team apart from the Springboks to have conquered the All Blacks since 2003 - remain quietly confident their great rivals are vulnerable - as they have shown to be in failing to lift the William Webb Ellis Cup despite being heavy title favourites at three of the last four World Cups.
"And I think we've advanced a bit (since last year). I think we're not too bad," Connolly said.
"The last two (Bledisloe Tests) were close games and sometimes you're going to get away with them."
Henry acknowledged as much this week when he admitted the Wallabies were unlucky not to have lowered the All Blacks' colours last year, labelling the Brisbane Test his side's toughest in the past 18 months.
"I have fond memories of that game. It probably epitomised what Test rugby's all about," Henry said.
"It was low scoring, hugely contested, good defence by both sides, and either could have won."
He expects another torrid encounter this weekend and Wallabies playmaker Stephen Larkham said a home victory would serve as a huge confidence booster just two months out from the start of the sixth World Cup.
"It's very important for our psychology," Larkham said. "We certainly want to get some confidence out of these matches.
"It's the same combination that we're going to take into the World Cup, so we want to get a little bit of confidence out of that and the best way to get that is to beat the sides that you come up against."
Rugby commentary, Jed style
Fri 29 Jun 2007 12:00a.m.
If you’re a rugby commentator there is only one place to be tomorrow night – the Melbourne Cricket Ground where Australia is taking on the All Blacks.
But one commentator won’t be there – he’ll be in a pub in Wellington calling the game in his own very different style.
Jed Thian is a former player who is attracting a crowd with his alternative commentary