Opinion: All Blacks still aiming for excellence
So, the All Blacks' winning streak continues after a special test performance in Soweto. But this team are driven by a more pure ideal than the mere pursuit of records.
This was the All Blacks' 16th test victory in a row and they now stand on the brink of carving their place in history. But what you've got to admire most is their pursuit of excellence, rather than numbers.
You can see them from week to week making sure they keep on track, always striving to get better.
The last two weeks they never went to the ground on Fridays, and they hardly trained this past week. Yet their drive and ambition is still very evident in the way they're playing.
I'm sure we'll see a lot of attention around their chance to equal the record of 17 consecutive test wins by a top tier nation. But I don't think this is motivating these guys.
Stats and winning streaks do mean something but they mean more to other people than to the players. The All Blacks are bloody good, and our history is what makes us great. We're going to continue to break records for many, many years. But this team will be motivated by wins, pure and simple.
All Blacks are stimulated first and foremost by perfection, by searching for the ultimate game. You'll never achieve that, but they still seek it, and because of the demands of our public they'll keep seeking it.
I can tell you that Steve Hansen will be looking beyond 17 test wins. He'll be looking at 30.
As an All Black you never contemplate losing, and that's why our record is so good. I'm all for achieving milestones but it's the relentless pursuit of perfection and never wanting to lose a test that is ultimately what you're driven by.
That's why yesterday would not have been about Richie McCaw bringing up his 100th test win. It was just about beating the Springboks in Soweto.
And they had to be very good to win another great test against the old enemy.The Springboks brought plenty of desire and initiative, and the ferocity of the attack early on was great.
Luckily for the All Blacks, the Springboks made crucial errors in the first half and leaked points as a result. That kept the All Blacks interested because at that stage they were well behind in every facet of the game
The Boks are not helping themselves grow because they're making fundamental errors that are undoing their good work. The All Blacks, on the other hand, are lethal because they can punish you when they have absolutely no ascendancy in the game.
It's becoming quite a forte of theirs, and why they must be so frustrating to play against.
If you break down the stats from this game New Zealand lost almost every single category. But this was an awesome All Blacks performance. Why?
It's impossible to look past their defence. This team's defence is their biggest weapon, and it was incredible again yesterday.
For the All Blacks to slip off just five tackles in 80 minutes, given all the ball the Springboks had, was amazing. Teams have got to be thinking ‘how the hell do we beat these guys?' The Boks had heaps of chances but New Zealand's defence was immense.
When I broke the game down, I struggled to come up with memorable individual achievements. Dan Carter in the second half as a general was great, but by his standards he was reasonably quiet on attack; Ma'a Nonu scored a try, but was not making massive busts; Conrad Smith was reasonably quiet; Hosea Gear had an excellent game; but I thought Israel Dagg was quiet apart from one moment of brilliance, Cory Jane was reasonably quiet and Aaron Smith was more solid than spectacular.
Yet the All Blacks won comfortably.
It was the same up front. McCaw had a pretty good game and Kieran Read was man of the match undoubtedly, Liam Messam carried well in the second half, the locks did their work, Sam Whitelock scored a good try, and Andrew Hore got turnovers. Everybody was doing their individual little bits although only one or two were really stood out.
But it's the collective that's working well, and that's the result of a good coach, a good gameplan and players who believe in each other. That's what is winning them test matches.
Read, though, was one guy you could single out, primarily for what he did in the first 40 minutes, when things were tough, when it wasn't easy.
That's what was special. He was trying to figure a way through the game and he led with his performance.
That's why he was the best player on the park - not because of what he did when the All Blacks were going well. But because of what he did when they weren't.