New Zealand Rugby
Next South Africa, then the World for All Blacks
August 9, 2010
The in-form All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup on Saturday © Getty Images
With the Bledisloe Cup secured for another year, the All Blacks now have their eyes on beating the Springboks in South Africa and carrying their dominant form through to the World Cup next year.
Success has come so readily to this All Blacks team that their major challenge appears not to lie in any opposition camp but in their own ability to maintain their high standards and not peak a year out from their world championship tilt on home soil.
After accounting for the Wallabies 20-10 in Christchurch on Saturday, centre Conrad Smith admitted the New Zealand camp was now focusing on the build up to the World Cup.
"If we could keep that going into next year, it's pretty powerful," he said. "We had to work pretty hard to come away with a good win and lock that cup away is a nice feeling. We felt pretty sound. We were well tested obviously and there were long periods when we were having to tackle and apart from the one try, which was really against the run of play, it felt like we defended really well."
The All Blacks plan to further improve their credentials by overcoming arguably their toughest challenge this season - knocking off the Springboks in front of 90,000 screaming South Africans in Johannesburg's National Stadium at altitude on August 21.
New Zealand lost both their matches in South Africa last year so they have put extra emphasis on the Tri-Nations match as a way to test themselves to the limits.
"South Africa will be the best they can be," All Blacks coach Graham Henry said. "That is a huge challenge, and something I think the team needs, and we will look forward to as long as we do it right between now and then. We will just continue what we have done over the last four games of the Tri-Nations."
Planning for Johannesburg has been bubbling away for some time. Captain Richie McCaw and his men will rest for most of this week before gathering in Sydney on Saturday and spending nearly a week on the high veldt.
"Having a week off comes at a pretty good time because the last five weeks have been pretty big really," McCaw said. "The Tri-Nations is still there to be won. It's going to be a big challenge playing in Johannesburg ... but one we'll get excited about too."
Veteran fullback Mils Muliaina - the leading Tri-Nations try-scorer with four after bagging the opener against Australia on Saturday - said the grinding nature of the Christchurch win would hold them in good stead. Mental strength would be vital against the Springboks, an area that let them down in Bloemfontein and Durban last year.
"We'll probably touch on that before we leave. We were pretty disappointing last year, losing two games in a row," he said. "This result will give us a bit of confidence. We've got a couple of weeks to reflect on it and get a bit better. We were probably off a bit in terms of the attacking side but definitely with our defence we'll take a lot of confidence to Jo'burg."
Lock Brad Thorn said he relished the prospect of playing in front of a crowd close to a career-high 94,000 who watched the 2000 National Rugby League final, in which his Brisbane Broncos triumphed at Stadium Australia.
"It's just noise and you just bathe in it. It's just a gift to be amongst it," Thorn said. "(Saturday night) was fantastic but I've always said the bigger the crowd, the more I love it. And I'm sure the Africans have had a month to think about things and they'll come out 100 miles an hour, I wouldn't have it any other way."
"Here is the line-up I believe will take to the field on Saturday, let the abuse commence." Tom Hamilton has a punt at the Lions' starting XV for the first Test in his latest Tour Diary
"Drafting former Lions heroes and rising stars into your side at short notice may make for great copy but it does not make for a great side." Graham Jenkins on the lesson from the Lions' first loss
"At full-time I could not see the field for people dancing in front of me." Tom Hamilton reflects on the Lions' defeat at the hands of the Brumbies in Canberra
To coincide with the Lions' tour of Australia, and in association with Dove Men+Care, we are asking you to vote for the greatest Lions moments of the professional era