McCaw wants 80-minute effort from All Blacks
For 20 minutes last week in Dunedin the All Blacks elevated their game to a level that left not just their fans, but their opponents breathless.
But other than that the quality stuff has been in short supply during this evenly matched June series against Stuart Lancaster’s highly competitive English outfit – never mind the 2-0 series score that if you’re honest probably flatters the home side a little.
And that frustrates All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, who spoke today in Hamilton about his team needing to find the “belief” to strike the consistent vein of form that’s so far been so elusive.
“There’s a fair bit of excitement about this test,” McCaw said following the traditional Captain’s Run walkabout. “We want to take another step up. Although we won last week and took another step up, it still wasn’t perfect. We want to be better this week.”
Asked what he’d learned through the first two tests – a 20-15 victory at Eden Park, and a 28-27 success in Dunedin – the record-breaking, 126-test flanker was emphatic in his verdict.
“Realising that if you don’t get the individual skills right and perhaps don’t trust exactly how you’re doing things it becomes pretty hard work,” he said.
“In that 20 minutes [in Dunedin] when we started to believe in what we were doing, the guys showed what they can do. So it’d be nice to do that for longer.
“Having not played together for a while we’re always going to be a bit rusty. It would have been nice to be a bit slicker earlier, but we’ve got another chance to do that.”
McCaw said the fact that the series was won meant little to these All Blacks. Every test has its own meaning, its own pressures, and with a run-on debutant in midfield (Malakai Fekitoa), a returning star with a cloud over him (Kieran Read) and one or two men with a lot to prove (Aaron Cruden and Cory Jane) there remained a whole lot to play for.
“What drives this team is how we perform and it would be horrible to go away from this three-match series having won it, but not won the last one,” McCaw said.
Read’s return also has McCaw pumped. And not just to have the old band back together in the form of he, Read and Jerome Kaino, now back at No 6.
“He is pretty excited about being out there and rightly so,” McCaw said. “He’s got a bit of a spring in his step and it’s great to see him back. Body language would suggest he’s back to himself having had a rest and wants to get out there.”
The skipper’s view on the potential milestone the All Blacks could knock off tomorrow is also interesting, if a little predictable.
As they do, the All Blacks have found themselves on another of those roles, having backed up their perfect 14-0 season last year with two straight victories to start 2014.
That has them on 16 wins on the trot, with the record mark for a test nation being the 17 shared by the All Blacks (1965-69) and South Africa (1997-98).
The New Zealanders came agonisingly close to the record under Hansen back in 2012 when they hit 16 on the bounce before being held to a draw by the Wallabies in Brisbane and got to 15 in 2010 before being tipped over by the Australians in Hong Kong.
McCaw said today there were no jitters on the rugby equivalent of 99 not out.
“We’ve acknowledged the fact that there’s an opportunity there but that doesn’t guarantee it’s going to happen,” he said. “You’ve got to ask yourself how those things get ticked off and it comes back to preparing well, which I think we’ve done, and performing well tomorrow night.
“It will be a by-product of a good performance. It would be a nice thing to tuck away but there’s 80 minutes to do that first.”
In terms of England and the staunch opposition they’ve provided thus far, McCaw said it was nothing less than they had been anticipating.
“They’re a damn good rugby team. If you give them front-foot ball and opportunities they’re good enough to take them. Over the last couple of years playing them in England we realised that.”
For all that, this is the All Blacks’ moment to seize. England would love the scalp, of course, but at the end of a long and tiring season it is going to be difficult for them to summon one more big effort.
The All Blacks, in contrast, have plenty on the tank and a lot more to prove. They are desperate to show they can string together more than 20 minutes of top-notch footy.