RICHARD KNOWLER IN HONG KONG - Fairfax Media
October 27th, 2010
Clobbering teams with late king-hits is another deadly skill Richie McCaw's men have mastered, with the All Blacks skipper denying he ever believed the fight was lost in their last two tests.
Late rushes against the Wallabies in Sydney and the Springboks in Soweto earned the All Blacks improbable victories in their past two Tri-Nations matches, and although most New Zealanders probably thought their side was toast, the captain is adamant he never felt their unbeaten streak would end.
A win over the Wallabies at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday night would earn the All Blacks their 16th consecutive win, a milestone that appeared most unlikely when they trailed the Wallabies and the Springboks in the dying stages.
The leadership of McCaw, who is preparing to play his 90th test and is closing in on Sean Fitzpatrick's milestone of 92, paid massive dividends on both occasions after he refused to allow the panic to set in.
While he yesterday admitted he feels nervous as he watches the clock wind down whenever his side trails on the scoreboard, the 29-year-old said he refuses to let any negative vibes affect his team-mates.
And he also noted he has soaked up some valuable lessons from previous captains, such as former skipper and now Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.
"When I started you had a guy like Blackadder, and there was one occasion in particular that was a shield game when as a young fellow I thought the game was gone. But his belief and what he said and how he acted got the team home.
"I see that is always the role – that when things get hard and tough you have to make sure everyone believes in what you are doing."
With their side having stitched together a record 10 consecutive wins against the Wallabies since mid-2008, a number of young All Blacks have forgotten what it is like to see their countrymen lose the Bledisloe Cup.
McCaw recalled the agony of watching John Eales nail his last-minute penalty in 2000 in Wellington and he then experienced the pain as a player when Matt Burke kicked a late penalty to allow the Wallabies to retain the trophy in 2002.
The All Blacks' most successful skipper noted that when the heat goes on, as it did in Soweto and Sydney, it was important to kick for field position – even it means giving away possession.
"It is little things like that you have to be thinking of at that time, rather than just having to score points right now. That is when mistakes can happen.
"You still feel the pressure but as soon as you start displaying it to the rest of the boys they are going to feel it too aren't they? So you have to look like you are in control."
It was McCaw's late five-pointer that sparked the All Blacks late comeback against the Springboks on August 21 in Soweto, which was followed by Israel Dagg's injury time try to earn them a 29-22 victory.
"I thought we were playing some good rugby and there was going to be some reward at some point," McCaw recalled.
"There may not have been, but when you are thinking like that you have got to keep believing you can do it."