Jeff Wilson backs All Blacks to come right

BY DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 00:29 09/08/2009

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Jeff Wilson, part of the All Blacks’ record horror sequence of five test losses, is confident the current side can break out of their slump.

The 35-year-old, now co-coaching North Harbour with fellow All Black Craig Dowd, believes the brief interlude of Air New Zealand Cup action can revitalise the confidence-sapped players.

And he's backed Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen to get things on track again as the All Blacks eye the Wallabies in Sydney on August 22.

Successive losses to the Springboks have placed plenty of heat on Henry's men but that's nothing to what Wilson and Dowd endured as part of the 1998 side that lost all four Tri-Nations tests and a subsequent Bledisloe Cup battle.

"We had that period in 1998 when we had our backs to the wall. It was very tough. We sort of fought our way out of it in 1999 but unfortunately we weren't able to pull off what we needed to do at the World Cup."

In World Cup terms Henry has more time up his sleeve before New Zealand host the 2011 tournament. But the Tri-Nations title is hanging by a thread and the Bledisloe Cup might also be vulnerable unless the All Blacks can click into gear in Australia.

Losses tend to galvanise All Blacks team and Wilson said that was the feeling he got after speaking to Smith about how Luke McAlister should be managed with Harbour during the current hiatus. "There is a real drive in the team, there's no doubt about that," said Wilson.

"It's a big ask to have the best team in the world all the time. You go through cycles and there are a number of key players who haven't been available. I know they are working really hard ... they are just making some mistakes.

"But these guys are proven coaches, they really are and their record with the All Blacks is outstanding. They know what they are doing but they will be like anyone - they will be feeling pressure.

"We are getting nervous and we get nervous in New Zealand very quickly. But they are the All Blacks - I always back them to get out of a hole."

Wilson detected some tiredness in the All Blacks. But he felt that playing the domestic championship would help rather than hinder them. Several All Blacks played this weekend's second round and most will be involved next weekend.

"It's testing times but we have to keep the faith, hang in there, enjoy some Air New Zealand Cup footy and hopefully that will give those All Blacks a chance to perform.

"Sometimes taking a step back and playing at a lower level just gives you your confidence back. "The Air New Zealand Cup will be competitive for them but it will be a little bit slower, a little bit less physical and they might actually get the chance to run with the ball in their hands without someone smashing into them every two or three seconds.

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"They will freshen up back here and will look forward to Australia."

Wilson, who scored 44 tries in his 60 tests, backed the All Blacks' adventurous approach against the Springboks despite the game plan failing.

"They had a go and it didn't come off. We are very quick to criticise them for that. But I'd rather have them do that than not have a crack and go down without actually playing to their strengths. "We can't get away from the fact that this Springboks team is really good and it's never easy to win in South Africa - history tells us that.

"The South Africans are good at putting pressure on and the players themselves would be feeling a little bit of that as well ... they were desperate to perform. It wasn't for the want of trying."

Henry is no stranger to losing consecutive tests - he's endured it twice in his All Blacks coaching career. Both times he has found the right reply although this appears to be his toughest test of all.

The 35-year-old, now co-coaching North Harbour with fellow All Black Craig Dowd, believes the brief interlude of Air New Zealand Cup action can revitalise the confidence-sapped players.

And he's backed Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen to get things on track again as the All Blacks eye the Wallabies in Sydney on August 22.

Successive losses to the Springboks have placed plenty of heat on Henry's men but that's nothing to what Wilson and Dowd endured as part of the 1998 side that lost all four Tri-Nations tests and a subsequent Bledisloe Cup battle.

"We had that period in 1998 when we had our backs to the wall. It was very tough. We sort of fought our way out of it in 1999 but unfortunately we weren't able to pull off what we needed to do at the World Cup."

In World Cup terms Henry has more time up his sleeve before New Zealand host the 2011 tournament. But the Tri-Nations title is hanging by a thread and the Bledisloe Cup might also be vulnerable unless the All Blacks can click into gear in Australia.

Losses tend to galvanise All Blacks team and Wilson said that was the feeling he got after speaking to Smith about how Luke McAlister should be managed with Harbour during the current hiatus. "There is a real drive in the team, there's no doubt about that," said Wilson.

"It's a big ask to have the best team in the world all the time. You go through cycles and there are a number of key players who haven't been available. I know they are working really hard ... they are just making some mistakes.

"But these guys are proven coaches, they really are and their record with the All Blacks is outstanding. They know what they are doing but they will be like anyone - they will be feeling pressure.

"We are getting nervous and we get nervous in New Zealand very quickly. But they are the All Blacks - I always back them to get out of a hole."

Wilson detected some tiredness in the All Blacks. But he felt that playing the domestic championship would help rather than hinder them. Several All Blacks played this weekend's second round and most will be involved next weekend.

"It's testing times but we have to keep the faith, hang in there, enjoy some Air New Zealand Cup footy and hopefully that will give those All Blacks a chance to perform.

"Sometimes taking a step back and playing at a lower level just gives you your confidence back. "The Air New Zealand Cup will be competitive for them but it will be a little bit slower, a little bit less physical and they might actually get the chance to run with the ball in their hands without someone smashing into them every two or three seconds.

"They will freshen up back here and will look forward to Australia."

Wilson, who scored 44 tries in his 60 tests, backed the All Blacks' adventurous approach against the Springboks despite the game plan failing.

"They had a go and it didn't come off. We are very quick to criticise them for that. But I'd rather have them do that than not have a crack and go down without actually playing to their strengths. "We can't get away from the fact that this Springboks team is really good and it's never easy to win in South Africa - history tells us that.

"The South Africans are good at putting pressure on and the players themselves would be feeling a little bit of that as well ... they were desperate to perform. It wasn't for the want of trying."

Henry is no stranger to losing consecutive tests - he's endured it twice in his All Blacks coaching career. Both times he has found the right reply although this appears to be his toughest test of all.
 
BEST ALL BLACKS COMEBACKS OF THE PROFESSIONAL ERA
 
2008 - Won 39-10 over Wallabies at Eden Park after losing 19-34 to Australia in Sydney and 28-30 to South Africa in Dunedin.
 
Put this revival down to tactical changes by Graham Henry’s coaching staff. They had suffered the heartache of Boks halfback Ricky Januarie robbing them of victory with his stunning late solo try at Carisbrook but then fell well short against the Wallabies where Robbie Deans used his  familiarity with the ELVs to give the All Blacks a lessons in kick and chase tactics. To their credit the New Zealand hierarchy took that on board and responded to have the All Blacks beat the Wallabies at their own game seven days later in a stunning tunaround that set up a fourth consecutive Tri-Nations title and went a long way to retaining the Bledisloe Cup. The All Blacks coaches later admitted it was arguably their toughest week’s work.
 
2004 - Won 45-6 over France in Paris after losing 26-40 to South Africa in Johannesburg and 18-23 to Australia in Sydney.
 
The axe came out early in Henry’s All Blacks coaching tenure. Having been happy to largely box on with John Mitchell’s unsuccessful World Cup squad, their shortfallings were rammed home in the last two Tri-Nations matches of ’04, particularly at Ellis Park where the ageing side was cut to ribbons. With time to ponder before the end of year tour, Henry chucked out Andrew Mehrtens, Carlos Spencer and Justin Marshall. The playmaking role was handed to Dan Carter and Conrad Smith’s enterprise was introduced to take some midfield heat off Tana Umaga. They eased their way back into form against Italy, saw off Wales by one point, and then showed they were on track by annihilating the French in Paris. That remains one of Henry’s finest hours and set up a stunning run through the 2005 and ‘06 seasons.
 
2000  - Won 39-26 over France in Paris after losing 40-46 to South Africa in Johannesburg and 23-24 to Australia in Wales.
 
The All Blacks were a psychological mess by the time the Tri-Nations ended this year. They had to endure yet another last-gasp nightmare against the Wallabies when John Eales kicked his famous penalty at the Cake Tin and then got caught up in a helter-skelter match at altitude against the Boks where they played catchup for most of the game. They failed to close out the match despite late opportunities handy to the South African posts. That loss handed the Wallabies their first Tri-Nations title. On to Europe at the end of the year and coach Wayne Smith revamped his pack. Prop Greg Somerville got the first start of his illustrious career and a new-look back row excelled. This was a real arm-wrestle for long periods with the forwards producing some traditional All Blacks virtues before late tries exaggerated the scoreline.
 

- Sunday News

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