No fortress mentality from All Blacks
The All Blacks refuse to revert to a World Cup style based on defence and hope to prove attacking rugby is winning rugby in tonight's double-trophy clash against the Wallabies at Eden Park here.
A gamut of handling mistakes in their first three Tri-Nations tests won't stop the defending champion New Zealanders from playing an expansive style in the tournament decider at Eden Park.
The match will also determine the fate of the Bledisloe Cup, with Australia only needing a draw to complete the heist.
This week, South African coach Jake White pointed to history when he said World Cup-winning teams employed defence at the heart of their campaigns. He suggested it would be the same this year in France and that the All Blacks may be making a mistake by attempting their entertaining brand.
All Blacks counterpart Graham Henry refuted White's comments saying both elements of the game were needed to be successful in the contemporary game.
"We try to play to our strengths and the way the guys enjoy playing," Henry said."If we played a game that was drive, kick the ball in the air, chase it, drop goals, I think we'd be a very poor side because it just wouldn't stimulate the guys. If you just concentrate on defence, you're probably not going to score a lot of tries in the World Cup."
Henry, who is also the team's defence coach, said that element of his team's game had been acceptable. They have conceded seven tries in six tests, while scoring 29 themselves.Another less digestible statistic shows the All Blacks have made 94 handling errors this season, compared to 49 by their opponents.
Backline coach Wayne Smith recognised a pattern which he hoped would hold New Zealand in good stead at the World Cup.
"We know we haven't been quick enough in support, our lines haven't been good enough," he said. Last year in the Tri-Nations it was very similar. The end-of-year tour was all about converting opportunities created. We've got a history of fixing up things that aren't quite functioning. We want to play an attacking game, we want to be defensively strong as well. Despite what Jake White says, we think that you've got to be good in both areas of your game."
In last month's 15-20 loss at Melbourne, the All Blacks became increasingly frustrated by the Wallabies' smothering defence.
This time, captain Richie McCaw is likely to call for more tactical kicking rather than bashing away with ball in hand.
Australian defence has been a core feature of a recent record that sees them having lost just two of their last 10 tests -- including a narrow loss to a full-strength Springboks in Cape Town -- and climb to second behind New Zealand on the world rankings.
Their game remains based on structure with and without the ball, reflecting the ACT Brumbies influence.
Ten players in tonight's starting team are from the ACT Brumbies, who ended this year's Super 14 with six straight wins, conceding less than 10 points a game in what was the best finish of any team.
If the All Blacks don't mentally cope with the intensity and verbal pressure of a confident Wallabies outfit -- as was the case in Melbourne -- they could find their four-year reign as Bledisloe Cup holders over.
A suggestion that the silverware-starved Wallabies would have more hunger for the prize they lost at Eden Park in 2003 ruffled the feathers of McCaw.
"I hope not, our team's pretty hungry," he said."A lot of our guys went through a lot of pain to get that Bledisloe back, it's not an easy trophy to win. There's a fair few guys reminding each other what that's about."
Henry descried the Wallabies as dangerous because of their typically-Australian swagger.
"They've got a lot of inner-confidence in their own ability as athletes, that epitomises Australian sports people," he said."And games don't get any bigger than this do they?"
It is set to be the last test on New Zealand soil for veterans Carl Hayman, Anton Oliver, Chris Jack, Byron Kelleher and Aaron Mauger.
Henry -- who may also be bidding farewell to the ground he knows better than anyone -- took the chance to state his increasing concern at players leaving for lucrative contracts in England and France.
"What worries me is that some of the senior players going are marvellous role models and mentors for the younger players playing the game," Henry said."When a whole host of them go at the same time, I think we'll find them hard to replace in the short term. It's something world rugby needs to look at."
ABs grind out win to secure trophy double
Two important pieces of silverware remain in New Zealand and the All Blacks are back on target for the biggest rugby prize of them all after grinding out a 26-12 win over Australia here tonight.
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw was a mixture of exhaustion and elation as he lifted the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations Trophy after a bruising test , the last for both teams before the World Cup starts in France in seven weeks.
After a season of inconsistent performances, the All Blacks clamped control up front in an impressive second-half display.
It was the winning of a test marred by wet weather, with the Wallabies never looking like they would get their hands on either trophy after prop Tony Woodcock crashed over for the only try of the game with 20 minutes remaining.
Before then, the match was a kick-fest between the accurate boots of All Blacks first five-eighth Daniel Carter and Wallabies centre Stirling Mortlock.
It was an evenly-balanced first half, with the All Blacks slightly fortunate to lead 12-9 after being outplayed at the lineout and breakdown in slippery conditions by the more efficient visitors.
Carter landed seven from eight shots at goal to keep his side in the game and ended with 21 points. Captain Mortlock nailed all his three penalty attempts and second five-eighth Matt Giteau landed a freakish first-half dropped goal.
A turning point came with half an hour remaining when the All Blacks introduced halfback Brendon Leonard and hooker Keven Mealamu off the reserve bench for Byron Kelleher and Anton Oliver respectively.
The latter veterans -- who are both bound for French clubs after the World Cup -- had their difficulties in the first half and their replacements added much-needed energy. The handling errors of recent tests largely disappeared even though the conditions were the worst the All Blacks had experienced this year.
Another notable replacement off the bench was Australian fullback Chris Latham, who played 30 minutes after recovering from a knee reconstruction. Thunder and lightning greeted the teams as they ran on to the field and while the heavy downpour before kickoff subsided, intermittent rain spoiled any chance of a decent spectacle.
The All Blacks scored first when a forward pick-and-go drive -- their most effective means of attack all night -- resulted in a simple three points to Carter. Mortlock replied in the 23rd minute from a scrum penalty, an area of the game where the Wallabies performed far better than in recent Bledisloe Cup fixtures.
Australian hit the front when second five-eighth Matt Giteau landed a remarkable dropped goal from halfway. He mishit and the ball which flew in a flat manner was confirmed to have cleared the crossbar by the third match official.
The Wallabies kept their lead when a Mortlock penalty cancelled out a Carter effort but two more to Carter -- the first from his own side of halfway -- put New Zealand 12-9 up. Carter landed two more penalties to Mortlock's one before All Blacks prop Tony Woodcock barged over for the only try of the game in the 58th minute to open up a 23-12 lead.
It followed a long period of pressure on the Wallabies' tryline, sparked by a Leonard intercept. The only scoring from then was Carter's seventh penalty as the Wallabies struggled for possession to mount an attack.
It was New Zealand's fourth successful defence of the Bledisloe Cup since winning it at Eden Park in 2003 and their third straight Tri-Nations title. The victory was New Zealand's 26th in a row at home and extended their unbeaten run at Eden Park to 18.
It may well have been the last home test for Oliver, Carl Hayman, Chris Jack and Kelleher while Australian veteran halves George Gregan and Stephen Larkham have confirmed they won't play again on New Zealand soil.
New Zealand's 30-man squad to contest the World Cup was to be named tomorrow while Australia's will be announced the next day.