New Zealand 20-10 Australia, Tri-Nations, August 7
Henry delights in Bledisloe Cup triumph
August 8, 2010
New Zealand delight in retaining the Bledisloe Cup © Getty Images
All Blacks coach Graham Henry heaped praise on his side's defensive qualities following their 20-10 victory over the Wallabies that ensured they retained the Bledisloe Cup.
It was somehow appropriate that their latest Tri-Nations victory - that leaves them just one point from reclaiming the southern hemisphere crown - called on All Blacks' grit and tenacity, the hallmarks of a rugby Test from yesteryear. The Bledisloe Cup-lifting effort came less than a week after the death of double All Black Eric Tindill - one of the New Zealand's greatest sports figures, for whom the New Zealand players donned black armbands.
Not that rugby in Tindill's pre-World War Two era was even close to the electric pace on show in Christchurch last night. Yet it was old-fashioned attributes that won the day.
The All Blacks rode home on slick early tries to fullback Mils Muliaina and centre Conrad Smith, spending most of the remainder on defence against an Australian outfit desperate to atone for the 49-28 loss in Melbourne a week earlier. After grabbing an early long-range try of their own to fullback Kurtley Beale, they dominated possession but were constantly frustrated by the hosts' relentless work in defence, a factor that warmed the heart of All Blacks coach Graham Henry.
"Last night was just a battle for 80 minutes and the best defensive side probably won the game," Henry said. "Our defence, structurally, was superb I thought. We probably didn't hit as hard in the tackles or win the contests as much as we have but the structure didn't give them opportunity and that was hugely pleasing."
Prompting an even bigger smile was a seventh successive defence of the Bledisloe Cup, the second longest run behind the 11 New Zealand defences from 1951-78. The All Blacks are also a bonus point away from securing a 10th Tri-Nations crown but the coaches and players were in synch over what piece of silverware means most.
"Obviously there is the World Cup next year and that is a different story but each year the Bledisloe Cup is the No 1 trophy. It is a big deal for this team to keep this cup," Henry said, admitting to a celebratory drink from the giant trophy last night. About half a dozen of them (players) won it in 2003. To continue to win that cup is very important to the team, so they're delighted."
Henry suspected the defensive workload -- his team made 110 out of 115 tackles while Australia completed 75 out of 87 -- left their legs too weary to attack in the merciless manner that has marked this year's campaign. That's why a week off before travelling to Johannesburg to face South Africa on August 21 will be of priceless value.
"It was our toughest game, I also think we were starting to feel the effects of playing seven test matches in nine weeks," he said. "Some of the guys just need some space, I think we are going to have to be very careful when we get to South Africa that we don't overdo it."
Injured halfback Jimmy Cowan was "more likely than not" to play in that match, where the All Blacks will chase a clean sweep of the Springboks. Henry said a decision on Cowan would be made before the squad gathers in Sydney on Saturday.
Reflecting on their latest success, the six All Blacks player leaders reckon they haven't enjoyed rugby so much as this year. Captain Richie McCaw, fullback Mils Muliaina, centre Conrad Smith, fly-half Dan Carter, lock Brad Thorn and hooker Keven Mealamu are the designated six who play a key role with the coaches in guiding the fortunes of the world No.1-ranked side.
They agree the style employed this season has given them a new lease of life and that had flowed through to the general public, including a sellout 39,000-strong crowd at AMI Stadium for last night's victory.
"We're on a bit of a roll which is nice, there's just a good feeling in the country at the moment," Smith said. "We were walking out to the bus and there was a buzz about the place that a number of us haven't seen for a number of years. If we can keep that going into next year (World Cup) it's pretty powerful."
The contemporary All Blacks aren't usually motivated by statistics but Smith reckoned they would be keen to extend their current winning streak of 13 Tests. They and South Africa co-own the record of 17, a mark that could fall on their season-ending tour if they beat South Africa in Johannesburg and can quell the Wallabies two more times - in Sydney and Hong Kong. He will take the wins however they come, although the intent will always be to attack.
"You enjoy having special days but they're things you can't expect every week," he said. "The character of the side (last night) is something that will probably put us in good stead. If we can grind out wins like that, it's pretty satisfying."
Thorn agreed, in different terminology. "The game of rugby is a pretty exciting and enjoyable game. I enjoy a fast game but I also enjoy a good old bash up as well. I just think is a treat every time."
Muliaina gained satisfaction from his leadership role and noted the number of people who could be part of the decision-making group was growing rapidly. "There's definitely a lot of senior guys, especially the likes of the skipper (McCaw) and DC (Carter) running the cutter there," he said. "It just goes to show the maturity we've got now. There was 700-odd (717) test matches between the starting 15 and it goes a long way in tight situations and (last night) was one of them."
The All Blacks can stretch their winning hex over Australia to 10 Tests with victory in Sydney next month. That would surpass their previous record of nine, which began in 1936, the year Tindill played his sole rugby test.