RICHARD KNOWLER IN CARDIFF - Fairfax Media
Richie McCaw still can't shake the disappointment of the Wallabies' Hong Kong robbery.
The All Blacks captain is still peeved about Australia stealing a late 26-24 win on October 30, a result that buried his dreams of setting a world record 19 consecutive test wins and reason for a gloating Quade Cooper to give McCaw a shove in the head as he celebrated James O'Connor's try.
For McCaw, however, it was not the actions of the bragging Cooper that still annoys him. It was that he knew the All Blacks - had they closed out the match - should still be on a winning streak.
"It still frustrates me a bit, to be honest, because we had the game and we could have won it," he reflected.
"There were times we put ourselves under pressure and I think you saw a little bit the following week against England too when we put ourselves under our own pressure, rather than the opposition. That was certainly one of the lessons we had."
Had all gone to plan the All Blacks would have notched up the new record in Dublin, which would have been appropriate considering that test also marked McCaw and Mils Muliaina's record-breaking 93rd test for their country.
"It still annoys me, I would have liked to have won that game, I tell you, but that happened and we took some good learnings from it," McCaw reiterated.
"That (world record) was one of the things that would have been nice to have in the box but it wasn't to be and you just have to get on with it don't you?"
Now the All Blacks, as they prepare to meet Wales on Sunday morning (NZ time), are stalking another grand slam title to slap on the wall alongside those collected in 1978, 2005 and 2008 and maintain their seven-year winning streak on a northern hemisphere tour.
Although they were beaten in their 2007 World Cup quarterfinal by France in Cardiff, the New Zealanders have not lost on an end-of-year tour since being beaten 31-28 by England in London in 2002, when then-coach John Mitchell selected an under-strength side.
Centre Conrad Smith said that despite the appeal of getting back home after five weeks on the road, he still felt mentally fresher than he did last year when they toured for six weeks.
To prevent the players getting scratchy as they count down the days, management encourage them to move their minds off rugby during their downtime and to get out of their hotels.
"I think most guys have been around enough, through Super 14, to deal with it with travelling to South Africa and things like that," Smith added. "You find your own ways to get by.
"No, no, I'm not a gamer (computer games). For me it is about getting out of the hotel and forgetting about rugby."