By RICHARD KNOWLER
It did not take long for Victor Vito to discover on Saturday night how much heat All Blacks coach Graham Henry's flame-thrower speeches can generate.
Forty minutes, to be exact.
An irate Henry was captured by the television cameras giving his players a halftime blast at Carisbrook and Vito, who made his first start for the All Blacks at blindside flanker against Wales, confirmed the spiel would have made the PC-brigade blush.
"It was pretty stern, probably something I shouldn't really repeat here. It was stern enough in that we seemed to bounce back and react," Vito said.
Despite their 15-9 halftime lead, Henry was angered by his men repeatedly coughing-up the ball, either losing it in the tackle or tossing sloppy passes, and being pressured from high kicks.
Had it not been for Cory Jane's long-range try, a movement that started when centre Conrad Smith entered a ruck from a suspiciously offside position to send his right wing down a vacant blindside, the All Blacks may have trailed at the break.
Hence, Henry was not happy. The verbal bullets were loaded into the breech and delivered with accuracy.
"A lot of it was about ball maintenance," Vito said. "We were always losing the ball when we took it into contact."
Halfback Jimmy Cowan almost had sympathy for the unsuspecting Vito after the verbal ambush and hinted he may experience some more in the future if his career flourishes.
"Victor is only into his second week. I have been with Ted [Henry] for six years now," Cowan said. "I have heard some good ones now, I will give you that."
Cowan, who set up the opening try to Keven Mealamu with a quick penalty-tap, was also critical of the All Blacks slow start and said it was their lack of desire, not the pressure from Wales, that contributed to the absence of accuracy and urgency.
"We got a fair talking to at halftime and our whole mindset and attitude changed in that second half. Personally I think we were just a bit lethargic as a group. We were a bit slow out of the blocks. You could see it in our kick-chase, we didn't have our rabbits up there and our guy chasing the ball."
Like his team-mates, Cowan stayed on the ground after the match to farewell Carisbrook as a test venue although he will return regularly for his Super 15 duties next year.
But unlike the Highlanders fixtures, which are notable for their lack of crowds and empty seats, there was a carnival atmosphere at the ground as 29,000 fans partied at the dated venue one last time.
For Cowan it sparked memories of venturing up State Highway 1 to Dunedin as a youngster to watch tests.
"It's something I will cherish, you don't often see a full house like that," Cowan said.
"I thought the crowd bought into it tonight, we saw the Mexican wave and [it was] very loud. It reminded me of the younger days when I was up here watching test matches. It had that feel about it again."