Henry hails All Blacks' character
September 12, 2010
The All Blacks celebrate their narrow victory over the Wallabies in Sydney © Getty Images
New Zealand head coach Graham Henry has pinpointed his side's character as the driving force behind their record-breaking Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations campaign.
"Character, character, character" the All Blacks' boss chimed in the afterglow of their nerve-shredding 23-22 comeback victory over the Wallabies in Sydney last night. And Henry need not have deviated from the alphabet to expand on the reasons behind the All Blacks record-setting 10th consecutive success at rival Robbie Deans' expense.
The words composure, cunning and captain were as fitting and, for starters, clumsy -- in recognition of the All Blacks' sloppy opening 50 minutes against an opponent still on a high from their heroics at altitude in South Africa last weekend. It required a clinical comeback in the final quarter to overhaul a 13-point deficit with converted tries to Richie McCaw and Kieran Read completing a recovery reminiscent of their last-ditch win against the Springboks in Soweto three weeks ago.
The ability to prevail in tight contests - once the speciality of a John Eales-led Wallabies side - has been a hallmark of an All Blacks side on a 15-match winning streak. Naturally McCaw was an inspirational figure in his record 52nd Test in charge. A bold decision to reject a guaranteed three points in favour of an attacking scrum in the 67th minute was vindicated when McCaw took a pass from Read to cross and signal the momentum shift.
The Wallabies claimed he had detached from the set piece early, it was a borderline call and allowed McCaw to hurt his former coach Robbie Deans yet again -- at Hong Kong in 2008 his match winner via a missed forward pass secured a 19-14 triumph. Appropriately Read then produced the killer blow, barging over by the posts as the Wallabies defence finally fractured.
McCaw's 89th cap, the Test which enabled him to eclipse the captaincy record of Sean Fitzpatrick, also saw the 29-year-old pull clear of Zinzan Brooke as the most prolific All Black forward in Test history with his 19th try. Those accolades meant little to McCaw. It was the execution of his side's unbeaten six-match Tri-Nations campaign - yet another landmark - that left a lasting impression on the skipper.
"I think a little bit of it is habit, but that habit just doesn't happen," he said after the All Blacks finished the southern hemisphere competition with a record haul of 184 points and 22 tries. "We've got a bunch of senior guys that have played a lot of tests, been through a lot of experiences, good and bad," McCaw said.
"You think back to last year there were a few that were pretty tough," he said of the loss to France in Dunedin and three defeats to South Africa. "Sometimes that's where you're biggest learnings are. I know the senior players group learned a hell of a lot from that, things we didn't do so well so when you in situations like that out there, the key is to be composed and keep believing in what you're doing.
"(Saturday night) was a great example of that and three weeks ago in Soweto was as well .... When it came down to having to get things right the guys you expect to do that were the one's putting their hands up. That's what I see as pleasing."
Henry, meanwhile, was in awe of his players resolve. "The self belief has been incredible, the last two test matches we were up against it and guys still thought they could win rather than being overawed by the situation and the scoreboard," he said. "There's a real positive mental attitude -- those qualities have been really strong and they've developed this year.
So for Henry, surely there is reason for optimism less than 12 months out from that elusive World Cup? "Yes, but you're going to finish up second at some stage," he warned.
It is delaying the inevitable that continues to drive Henry, his assistant coaches and the team. "It's going to happen one day isn't it?" he said of the Wallabies ending their losing streak. "A couple of years time would be fine."
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