Monday, August 23, 2010

All Blacks breakthrough in South Africa
By DAVID LONG in Johannesburg

With the "bastard knocked off", to quote Sir Edmund Hillary, there is only one task left for this All Blacks team. The World Cup.

A win over the Springboks in South Africa was described as the ultimate challenge for these All Blacks leading into yesterday's Tri-Nations test in Soweto.
Well, they did it, winning 29-22 thanks to tries to Richie McCaw and Israel Dagg in the final three minutes.

But where to now for Graham Henry's men?

There are no more mountains to scale. They have reached the pinnacle of world rugby with clear daylight between them and the rest.
All they need do is carry on like this for the next 13 months and the World Cup is theirs.

They will play the Wallabies in Sydney on September 11 in a match that has no meaning, then go on a five-test trip to the northern hemisphere where the main focus will be to get things in place for the World Cup.
With the way they're playing at the moment, no-one can touch this All Blacks side.

This was supposed to be South Africa's chance to send a message to New Zealand that there are other teams out there that can rival them.
They were supposed to win this game, to continue to justifiably call themselves the world champions.

But they didn't. They were too fragile mentally to retain a 22-14 lead with 13 minutes left.
Henry was effusive about his team. The current crop of All Blacks were the players he would want to go to war with, such is their character, he said.

"It doesn't get any bigger than that, that was a huge game of rugby played in front of that crowd at a very special stadium. I felt so proud of what these boys have achieved, if you had to go to war, these are the guys you would take with you."

Leading into the game, players such as Joe Rokocoko talked of gaining revenge for the 3-0 spanking they got from the Boks last year. Others were more concerned about looking towards the future.
For McCaw there was a hint of redemption in yesterday's win.

"Last year we had a long time to think about what we were going to do over this Tri-Nations," he said, referring to their drubbing by the Boks.
"I've always said there is very little between the teams.
"If you turn up not quite on the job you'll come second, that's the way international sport is at this level.
"We feel like we've got room for improvement and as long as we keep doing that we'll keep looking at the things we need to do to be even better.
"If we stop doing that then teams will slip past us.
"We've got one more test against the Wallabies in a few weeks time and it would be a shame that because we've won the trophy, that we don't prepare and want to perform.
"That's our challenge now, to go out and still put a good performance together. But it's not an easy thing to win the Tri-Nations, you've got to do it dead right and I'm very happy to have been able to do that."

Cory Jane, the wing who has looked more assured in each appearance for the All Blacks, said it is no time for the team to rest on their laurels.

"We just can't leave it there, we've got to keep on improving," he said. "There are always patches of the game where one week it's great and the next week it's not so good. We've got to build it out so everything is 100 per cent in all the areas.
"Other teams are going to follow what we're doing.
"Our counter-attack has fallen apart, compared to what it was at the beginning of the season, so that's a work-on for us," he added.
"Even though you're winning you just can't rest on that because another team will work harder and end up beating us. So we've got to keep on improving."

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