Sunday, August 08, 2010

All Blacks eyeing record winning streak
By MARC HINTON in Christchurch

Having tucked away the treasured Bledisloe Cup for another year, the All Blacks don't have to dig too deep for a new focus to drive them through the next stage of this remarkable season they're putting together.

With their test winning streak now poised at a tantalising 13 after Saturday night's Bledisloe Cup-clinching 20-10 victory over the Wallabies at AMI Stadium, and those well-rested Springboks next up in Johannesburg, fresh challenges await Graham Henry's men.

They know too well that a fair bit of fire and brimstone awaits them in Johannesburg, not to mention the desperate Wallabies later in Sydney, and it didn't take long on Saturday night for minds to soon turn to that prospect, even as they were toasting another year of Bledisloe bliss in the bowels of AMI Stadium.

"Yeah, it's pretty special," said All Blacks centre Conrad Smith of the side's 13-test winning streak - just two shy of the mark established by the side of 2005-06.
"I think that's something we might focus on. It's a pretty awesome record and one we'd love to carry on.
"It's not going to get any easier. I think those two away tests (in Jo'burg and Sydney) are going to be the biggest of the year. The South Africans are probably stewing for that game, and it looks like a tough road ahead."

It was very much a theme of the post-game analysis from the All Black camp on Saturday night - savour the Bledisloe but stay grounded for what lies ahead.

The All Blacks will have a few days back at their homes to recover from a tough last fortnight and will head to the republic on Friday for an historic encounter against the revenge-minded Boks in Soweto on Saturday week. Their main fitness worry will concern halfback Jimmy Cowan and whether his damaged ribs are up to the task.

"I guess having a week off comes at a pretty good time," said skipper Richie McCaw. "The last five weeks have been pretty big and the guys who have played a lot of time in those tests need to freshen up. But the Tri-Nations still needs to be won and it will be a big challenge playing in Jo'burg which is never easy.
"So when we get on the plane we'll need to reassess. It will be a big challenge."

In-form No 8 Kieran Read agreed. "It's going to be huge," he said of the final challenge of searching for a win on South African soil which would complete a nigh-on perfect Tri-Nations. "I think the guys will relish it. It's definitely going to be a motivating factor."

The All Blacks were certainly adamant about two things following their hard-fought two tries to one victory over a much more competitive Wallabies outfit in Christchurch.

First, how good it had been to carve a victory on the back of outstanding defence, rather than the razzle-dazzle of earlier tests; and just how much they savour that massive Bledisloe trophy, these All Blacks.

"It was a bit different to the first three [Tri-Nations] games," said Smith. "Sometimes you enjoy them more. We felt like we had to work pretty hard to come away with a good win and lock that cup away. It's a nice feeling."

Asked if he preferred to win with style or with character, Smith took a moment to ponder the answer.

"That's a tough question," shrugged the outstanding New Zealand centre. "You enjoy every now and then having special days like maybe in Auckland and even last week (in Melbourne) to an extent. But they're things you can't expect to happen every week.
"The character of the side in this test was something that will put us in good stead. If you can grind out wins like that it's pretty satisfying."

Smith also made it clear how much he valued the Bledisloe when he nominated it as a more important trophy to the All Blacks than the Tri-Nations. Coach Graham Henry had set that agenda when he ignored the opening question at the press conference to pontificate on the gloriousness of holding on to the big trophy for a seventh straight year.

"That Bledisloe means a lot," said Smith, pointing to the history and the closeness of the trans-Tasman rivalry. "To have it locked away now after two games is a nice feeling."

He also said it hadn't felt like the rivalry against the Wallabies was as one-sided as the record book suggested, with the All Blacks now having won nine straight tests against the Australians to equal their longest streak against them.

"It certainly hasn't felt like we've had the wood over them or anything like that. The last three years there have been some great contests, and some when we've been down for the majority of the game."

Smith also didn't want to buy into the importance of this winning streak against the Wallabies that must be tying Robbie Deans up in knots.

"We don't talk about it," shrugged the No 13 who scored his 17th test try on Saturday night at AMI Stadium. "We might talk about the fact we're on a bit of a roll. That's nice.
"There's just a good feeling in the country at the moment. Walking out to the bus, there's a buzz around the place that a lot of us haven't seen for a number of years.
"If we can keep that going till next year it's pretty powerful."

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