Record gone, All Blacks can start over again
The All Blacks hit the reset button after an honest game review in Auckland yesterday, their win streak back to zero and their mindsets also refreshed for Saturday's Bledisloe Cup rematch at Eden Park.
That was very much the message from senior No 8 Kieran Read who spoke pointedly about discipline, about smarts and about getting back to what they do best as he looked forward to a much-anticipated second crack at the Wallabies on a ground where they haven't lost in 20 years.
Worse, the Wallabies haven't won at Eden Park since 1986, but they will cross the Tasman on Thursday about as confident as they have ever been after Saturday's 12-12 draw in Sydney scored very much as a moral victory for the hosts.
The Wallabies dominated the statistical categories, created the lion's share of the opportunities and spent most of the second half hot on attack as the All Blacks hung on for their lives.
In testing, wet conditions the Wallabies forwards surprised with their ability to compete at the set piece, and to dominate at the breakdown, and it morphed into a test match that the All Blacks forwards will not look back on with any fondness. They were flat-out outplayed.
When the heavens opened, most rugby people thought to themselves, "All Black weather". Instead, it was the high-risk, fast-paced Wallaby game that held sway on an unpromising evening.
The All Blacks also came out very much on the wrong side of the discipline equation, getting caned by officious South African referee Jaco Peyper, both on the penalty count and with two yellow cards that hamstrung them significantly. They have now had seven players sinbinned in the last 10 tests.
"We've got to be honest with ourselves if we want to get better," Read said after a long game review meeting yesterday. "It's nothing too different than normal - it's about us getting our game right for this week."
Read felt discipline wasn't an issue as much as it was something that had to be acknowledged. "We can't be giving away the amount of penalties we did last week. It's about us being disciplined enough to back ourselves and our systems."
In terms of the challenge facing the forwards, Read made it clear there had been some pretty brutal self-assessment there.
"It's important we go back to what we do well. It was a tough game in all respects on Saturday. We're about going back to the drawing board and doing things that suit us which is being able to carry hard, tackle well and recycle the ball really quick."
Possession platforms were poor in Sydney, especially in the second half. But Read stopped short of offsetting any blame in the direction of the referee, even though he made it clear he felt the All Blacks had the superior scrum.
"There are rulings made on the field. We've got to be smart about how we use it. We've got to put as much pressure on as we can but do that legally."
There was mention of Wallaby hooker Nathan Charles lying off his feet playing ball, or halfbacks balking and eventually feeding crooked. Read said the All Blacks couldn't afford to let frustrations enter their mindset.
"If it's playing on our minds we're not doing what we want to do around the track and not expressing ourselves. It's important if calls do happen during the game you pass by and move on to the next task."
In terms of finding the attacking spark that was so glaringly absent in the wet in Sydney, Read felt the equation was a pretty simple one.
"It's getting back to what we do well - producing a hard work ethic to get in position across the park so we can use the ball, and let it do its thing. That's what we try to do best."
There was no news yesterday on the injuries suffered by Ma'a Nonu (shoulder) and Jerome Kaino (elbow) with scans expected to present a clearer picture today. Nonu is thought to be a serious chance of missing the test.
There was also no definitive news on Conrad Smith's return after his baby's arrival on Sunday, but he was expected to rejoin the team in plenty of time to begin preparations.
If Nonu is out, Ryan Crotty or Malakai Fekitoa will be required to start at second five-eighths. Smith's cool head may be needed as the Wallabies play for their Bledisloe lives, and the All Blacks for their reputation as the world's best team.