Craig Dowd
Bledisloe nice but All Blacks have work still to do
Craig Dowd
August 20, 2015
New Zealand 41-13 Australia (Australia only)

Gratifying as the All Blacks' recovery was to retain the Bledisloe Cup for a record 13th term in Auckland at the weekend, there is one point about the game that shouldn't be forgotten. The Wallabies team the All Blacks beat was not the team that had beaten them a week earlier in Sydney.

That is what the All Blacks will have taken away from Eden Park; a sense of yes, they got the job done in keeping the trophy, but no, they haven't taken their revenge on the side that beat them. That fact could be a very useful motivator should they meet again.

So far as Australia's approach to the Test was concerned, I definitely think Michael Cheika will be feeling that he has kept something up his sleeve by not putting David Pocock and Michael Hooper out together again from the outset of the return match.

He will be hoping their effect in Sydney will be in the back of the All Blacks' minds should they meet again at the Rugby World Cup. And should that fixture come about, you can guarantee the Australians will field a team closer in make-up to that of their win in Sydney than in last Saturday's game in Auckland. And good on them.

It's all cards on the table now.

But importantly, again, for the All Blacks, what that Sydney loss has done is make them realise that you can lose a game of rugby if you take your eye off the ball for just a split second.

Winning a World Cup is about winning seven games in a row. That's it. (And maybe if you're France you can go close even if you lose a pool game.) Forget about all records leading up to the World Cup; once the World Cup starts you just have to get through a series of seven games. So the message should be: it doesn't matter who the opposition is, don't drop the intensity.

Dane Coles's try turned the game for New Zealand © Getty Images

The All Blacks at Eden Park reminded me of a quote out of The Incredible Hulk TV series: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry". I think they showed that sort of attitude on Saturday night.

They'd been through a very, very tough week; one in which they were very disappointed with themselves and they wanted to put things right. Certainly, they would have felt the public pressure, the media pressure and all the usual outside influences which say 'Guys, we expect more from you'. And their response to that really came through. And they just clicked.

They got back into their stride, they grew in confidence as the game went on. Everyone from one to 15 played well. And what a way to send out some players who won't play on New Zealand soil again in that All Blacks jersey.

Hansen pays tribute to McCaw

In saying that, I have never seen anything like the collective emotion shown when Richie McCaw was subbed off with about 20 minutes to play. There have been things that have been done on odd occasions, with standing ovations for certain people, but to have everyone at the ground on their feet in recognition of his service - it was the biggest send-off I have seen in a rugby environment. It was a special moment for a very special player, the sort of player who comes around once in two or three generations. The crowd's spontaneous reaction fitted the man in recognising how humble he is, the sort of person who finds himself in the spotlight a lot of the time but who doesn't go and seek it out - which even makes it more special. It was a great way to send him off.

But, and it is a big BUT, I am sure McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu will have gone, 'Thanks, that was nice but our jobs are not done'. The important thing is they haven't given the All Blacks' jersey away; it was a sentimental moment as they played their last game on New Zealand soil, but their job in the All Blacks jersey is not done.

They will be looking to the camps, the testing, the hard work that has to go in between now and the World Cup; and, because it is out of sight out of mind, a lot of people won't realise just how hard the All Blacks will be working right now. There will be a lot of gruelling, sweat, blood, tears of conditioning work that has got to be put in so they turn up in absolute peak condition come the Rugby World Cup.

And they're not alone. Every other team will be doing the same thing. The wider public can't hope to realise just what professional athletes have to go through to get the edge over the other professional athletes who want to take that title at the end of the year.

All Blacks conjure Men in Black

World Cup announcement time on August 30 is rolling around, and there are interesting selection conundrums to resolve over who will be on the plane and who won't. There's going to be heartbreak for a lot of players who have done a lot of work, some of whom have worn the All Blacks jersey and earned a lot of respect over the past couple of years. It just goes to show that it takes more than 15 players to get in behind what is an All Blacks legacy and what makes them strong. It is the level of players beneath those on the field who get out there and put the pressure on to provide a level of competition that keeps everyone honest.

Canterbury's Matt Todd on the charge, Otago v Canterbury, ITM Cup, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, August 15, 2015
Canterbury's Matt Todd © Getty Images

Whatever team is named, everyone should take pride that they have played their part in getting the side to that level.

The opening round of the ITM Cup was overshadowed by the Test last weekend, but it didn't take long to show that some new names are going to come through and there are going to be some interesting tussles before the end of the competition at Labour Weekend in October.

Wellington, by beating last season's champions Taranaki, showed they are looking to make their visit to the Championship as brief as possible.

Hawke's Bay showed they are not going to let go of the Ranfurly Shield easily, and their tussle with Wellington when it happens is going to be very interesting.

And Counties Manukau and Manawatu played as two sides who have moved out of the Championship in recent seasons; I must admit I didn't know too many of the Counties players on paper, but they were outstanding.

Adding to the mix over the next couple of rounds are the All Blacks who are going back to play for their provinces before the World Cup team is named.

Counties Manukau's Toni Pulu bagged a hat-trick in the opening weekend © Getty Images
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