Hinton: All Blacks dig deep for tough victory
A lot didn't go right for the All Blacks on Twickenham yesterday. But one very important thing went exceedingly well.
The No 1 side in the world didn't keep their perfect year alive by out-talenting, out-running, out-razzle-dazzling or even, truth be told, out-playing a quality England outfit. They did it by digging deep, facing adversity, finding solutions to some pretty sticky problems and, most importantly, by staying cool, calm and collected when the game had started to drift away from them.
I realise the All Blacks will always have their critics when they don't unleash the full gamut of their skills. That's just the way it is in a country that has become a little too used to their dominance.
But I'd urge people to think a little deeper about this 13th straight victory for 2013. While last week in Paris had been about still finding a way to win when they hadn't played very well, this one was about figuring out how to get out of a jam very much created by an opponent's force of will.
England are very hard to stop on their home ground when they get that big crowd roaring and momentum shifts in their favour. When they get their noses in front inside the final quarter, and have just hauled in the world champs from 14-points down, well I'd suggest there aren't many teams around with the ability to wriggle out of that headlock.
If the All Blacks are going to become the first side in history - and we all know how motivated they are about carving their place in sporting greatness - to defend the World Cup crown, then they are going to have to develop an ability to dig their way out of a tight spot or two.
It's all very well blowing someone off the park with the beautiful stuff like they exhibited in Jo'burg - Lord knows we would love 'em all to be like that - but a win like this one will be a great reference point for this side as it continues to evolve towards 2015.
Good teams win when they get it right. Very good teams win when they are a little below par. But great teams find ways to win when they aren't quite humming and their opponents also bring their best stuff.
That was this All Blacks victory in a nutshell. They played, maybe, 40 quality minutes, but they still found a way to scramble more points on that Twickenham scoreboard than a pretty decent England outfit.
There would have been excuses had the All Blacks lost. It's been a long year, it's a tough place to play, this England side is on the improve, etc, etc. But none would have been acceptable in the New Zealand camp.
This is a group who have been betrayed by their own whiteboard. They want to be "the most dominant team in the history of the world". It's not easy living up to ambition like that. It's even harder achieving it.