Muliaina blows away the cobwebs
July 11, 2010
New Zealand's Mils Muliaina claimed his 84th Test cap against the Springboks © Getty Images
All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina was delighted to be back in the thick of it following his side's 32-12 victory over South Africa at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Chiefs veteran has endured an injury-hit stop-start season but was back to his best as one of a number of star performers as the hosts outscored their rivals four tries to none on their way to a crucial bonus point victory. One big break set up the opening try for centre Conrad Smith and he was a constant threat when running the ball back at the Springboks.
"On a personal note, it was really satisfying," he said of how the game panned out. "It's been a frustrating year for me with injuries and what not. It's nice to get back out there and play test footy. That's the sort of stuff I really thrive on."
Muliaina, 29, is the most capped All Blacks back and he was making his 84th test appearance. He admitted he had "plenty of doubts" during his long spell on the sidelines about whether he would get back to where he was now. He missed out on the first two of the All Blacks' three Tests last month and watched on as newcomer Israel Dagg made an excellent fist of the fullback's job.
"You sort of doubt whether you can come back and do it again, how the game's gone and whether it's changed," he said. "I've gone back to doing the old systems that I know have done well for me in the past and thankfully it's come off."
He didn't let the competition he faced for the No.15 jersey weigh on his mind in the lead-up to last night's opening Tri-Nations test of the season. "It was funny, I was probably the most relaxed I've been for a Test match," he said. "But there's definitely a lot of competition for that position and it's really great.
"There are guys breathing down my neck and I have to go back out there again and do the business. You've got a guy like Israel Dagg and he's got immense talent. You've got Corey Jane, who's been playing some outstanding rugby. It's great competition and it's only good for the team, so it's awesome."
Muliaina wasn't surprised that the Springboks had again kicked plenty of ball to the New Zealand back three, a tactic that worked for them last year. The difference last night was that the All Blacks were able to harry the opposition kickers, allowing the catchers more time to secure the ball safely.
"Because we could put pressure on their kickers, their kicks weren't as accurate as last year," he said. "It definitely helped us as a back three to claim the ball and counter them."
In related news, lock Tom Donnelly believes a combination of luck and practice enabled the All Blacks to claim superiority at the all-important lineout. The hosts won all their own lineouts, had the confidence to the attack the South African throw-ins and managed to steal a couple of them.
"We got a bit of a lucky break and we just have to back it up again next week now," Donnelly said. Pressed on whether it was merely luck or whether endeavour played a part, he said it was a bit of both. "We put a lot of hard work in during the week on the opposition lineouts and on our own lineout as well," he said. "Like anything, the more practice you can do, the better you're going to be at it and I think that paid off for us."
The Test was Donnelly's eighth, but his first against South Africa. Despite not having been part of the All Blacks' three defeats to the Springboks last year, he said he could feel in the build-up last week how much the disappointment of those losses lingered.
"You could just sense from the guys that were there last year how much they hurt from those three losses," he said. "During training, you could feel the resolve to prove we're better than we were last year."