All Blacks release pressure valve
NZPA's Daniel Gilhooly
September 21, 2009
All Blacks coach Graham Henry and Richie McCaw extended their hex over Australia with victory in Wellington on Saturday © Getty Images
Forget about the movies. To witness The Transformers in the flesh simply required a glimpse of last night's miraculous All Blacks' turnaround in Wellington.
A mediocre two months of Tri-Nations fare burst into life when Graham Henry's men produced a performance of authority in their 33-6 roasting of the Wallabies, in the process allowing the under-fire coach some breathing space.
It was hard to believe this was the same team who had stumbled through June Tests against France and Italy, scraped past Australia twice and been whitewashed 3-0 by the Springboks. Henry tried to suppress his mood after easily the best display of 2009 but privately he and assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith will have been glowing.
Hansen was a notable absentee from post-Test media duties, the message clear from a man whose credentials have been questioned to the hilt, particularly after some shambolic lineout efforts against South Africa. Henry said the players did the talking for Hansen, not only with a lineout display full of polish and variation but through their dominant breakdown work that knocked the stuffing out of the visitors and consigned Robbie Deans' team to a sixth successive Bledisloe Cup loss.
It was a performance which must cast a new light on the New Zealand Rugby Union's annual review of the Tri-Nations campaign, most likely ending speculative talk of alterations to the coaching group before the All Blacks depart for a season-ending tour in five weeks. Henry can relax over that period, admitting today that doubts were always threatening to seep into his consciousness after losing four of eight tests this season.
"You're always questioning yourself, aren't you?" he told NZPA. "You're always hoping that what you're doing on the training field is actually executed on the pitch.
"The whole squad was under pressure during the week and leading up to this game. It just speaks volumes for their resolve to come through and have a big win. It's good for confidence."
The All Blacks' all-purpose evening was a continuation of their final 20-minute burst which nearly snatched victory in last week's three-point loss to South Africa in Hamilton. Tempering any bonhomie was an abject Australian performance, with the All Blacks allowed to stroll over the advantage line all night.
Captain Richie McCaw was a towering presence while fellow loose forwards Adam Thomson and Kieran Read were not far behind.
"The things we got wrong last week weren't major. A big thing was getting the belief and getting those little jobs right," McCaw said. "We realised last week wasn't the best day. Personally, I felt I needed to put in a good performance."
Thomson admitted motivation came from heavy criticism of the side, which reached a crescendo last week.
"When the pressure comes from the outside it brings you tighter because all you've got is the people that you're with," he said. "We knew we were coming up against a good loose forward trio and if we got the edge there it would go a big way towards winning the game. It was good to win the battle of the breakdown."
The New Zealand trio were as influential as Zinzan Brooke, Michael Jones and Josh Kronfeld in the very first Tri-Nations Test in Wellington in 1996. Unlike that 43-6 drubbing of the Wallabies at Athletic Park, Saturday's All Blacks left the scoreboard expansion until late with tries in the final five minutes to second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu and winger Joe Rokocoko. Winger Cory Jane bagged the other, late in the first half to put his side 16-6 clear while first five-eighth Daniel Carter missed just his first shot in an 18-point haul.
Carter has now scored a remarkable 130 points in seven Tests at Westpac Stadium and is a new world record holder for conversions against Australia with 23. Rokocoko crept past Jeff Wilson to third on New Zealand's test tryscoring ladder, his 45th now headed only by another former winger Doug Howlett (49) and former fullback Christian Cullen (46).
Henry's next hurdle is another dead rubber test against the Wallabies, in Tokyo on October 31.