New Zealand 20-10 Australia, Tri-Nations, August 7
Happy McCaw hails All Blacks steel
August 7, 2010
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw frustrated Australia as usual © Getty Images
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw hailed an outstanding defensive effort by his side as they retained the Bledisloe Cup with a hard-fought 20-10 victory over Australia at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
The All Blacks were given their sternest test of the season to date by a much-improved Wallabies side who were thumped 49-28 by their old rivals in Melbourne last weekend. But tries from in-form fullback Mils Muliaina and centre Conrad Smith, plus 10 points from the boot of Dan Carter, saw the All Blacks home.
Australia picked up a try thanks to a solo effort from Kurtley Beale, with Matt Giteau adding the conversion and a penalty. The victory was the All Blacks' ninth in a row against the Wallabies and it moves them within a solitary point of securing another Tri-Nations title.
"Some big hits went in but the boys played defensively for each other and the boys are pretty happy with that," said McCaw. "Such hard defensive games take their toll and the players' tanks were fairly empty with 10 minutes to go, but we felt we started to get on top of them physically [towards the end].
"Last week both teams wanted to use the ball a lot but the difference was we had to defend a lot in that second half. In tight Test matches you've got to do that. I'm very happy. It's an important Cup and we wanted to put a performance in to put it away so happy with that."
McCaw pushed the limits of the laws to their extremes as usual and seemed to receive more than one final warning from referee Jonathan Kaplan as the Wallabies piled on the pressure in the second half. But the Australian attack lacked imagination and McCaw hailed his side's defensive effort as they hang on to their half-time lead.
"In the first half we threw the ball around in their half and gave the ball away a few times," McCaw said. "So in the second half we wanted to play a bit more field position. We had to do that. We had to do a lot of defending. The boys dug in because when you haven't got the ball it takes a lot out of you. But we stuck at it and forced critical turnovers. Winning a test match against Australia, you've got to be happy with that."
All Blacks coach Graham Henry joined McCaw in his praise of his side's defensive effort, and also credited the improved Australian effort for troubling his side.
"It was much closer wasn't it? It was a much more traditional Test match," he told Foxsports "Both sides played well with very good defensive structures that did the job. So it was a matter of maintaining the ball and we maintained it well enough to win 20-10 and win the Bledisloe Cup so we're pretty happy with that. It was a more physical test match and the Australians came to play. They were a lot more physical than last week, they had a lot more backbone and we struggled at times."
The All Blacks were content to commit fewer numbers to the breakdown and keep a solid defensive line, a strategy Henry said was a reaction to the running rugby becoming more prevalent in the game.
"It's the nature of the game now. There's that continuity of the ball so you can't throw too many players in at the breakdown or you're going to lack numbers wide. I was pleased with the defence. I don't know if we had the same sting in the tackle but structurally we were very good. This is a huge Cup for us so to keep hold of it since 2003 is very pleasing."
Australia coach Robbie Deans also pinpointed the All Blacks defence as a critical factor.
"It was a vast improvement from last week," he said of his side's performance. "We had a lot of possession. We just weren't able to generate momentum, which was a critical element. The All Blacks were able to score on a couple of occasions through momentum whereas we were denied that. They didn't allow us to turn a lot of possession and position into points. They're a well conditioned team and they back their defence and make it difficult for you to score."
Australia captain Rocky Elsom rejected the notion that the Wallabies could be at least partly satisfied after pushing the All Blacks a lot closer than they did in their loss in Melbourne.
"We're still disappointed," admitted the Wallabies skipper. "We came here to win and we didn't do that. The effort from the guys was obvious and I'm proud of the energy they brought to the game but we were after a win there. We did well in holding on to the ball but we needed to score points and getting across the line was something that cost us in the end.
"Just because the game last week didn't go great, that's not how we thought we were as a team. We thought we were better than that. We knew if we came here in the right frame of mind and put what we wanted to on the park we'd come away with a win. But that didn't happen tonight so you can't be happy about that."