The All Blacks’ attack has produced nine tries in two Tri-Nations Tests but it is their ruthless defence that is being rated their most lethal weapon heading into the World Cup.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry and his Wallaby rival Robbie Deans both pinpointed the All Blacks defence as a crucial factor in their 30-14 win over the Australians at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
“I thought the defence was outstanding,” Henry said when asked to sum up the victory over the Wallabies, and Deans agreed.
“They scrambled defensively very well and those sorts of qualities will be important come World Cup time,” he said.
The All Blacks pulled off 116 tackles and only missed 21 against the Wallabies while the previous week they made 99 and missed six as they beat South Africa 40-7.
Against the South Africans, the All Blacks scored six tries and conceded one, prompting Springboks coach Peter de Villiers to rate the All Blacks as favourites for the World Cup, which starts on September 9.
But while Deans and De Villiers talk up the All Blacks’ World Cup prospects, Henry is reluctant to join the debate, mindful that his side has repeatedly started as favourites and failed to deliver in the showpiece tournament.
“It’s a good story isn’t it about having the psychological advantage, but there are are far too many occasions in the past when that hasn’t amounted to a result in the Rugby World Cup,” he said.
“If we get complacent about this victory [over Australia] it will be curtains I’d say.”
But while quick to downplay the significance of beating the Wallabies, Henry added “it was obviously great to win” at Eden Park, the World Cup final venue, where the Wallabies have not tasted success in 25 years.
No room to move
It was not the totally emphatic effort the All Blacks were looking for and the lack of game time for four forwards who had not played for several weeks since the Super 15 season was evident.
The Wallabies dominated in the middle of the first half and for the final 20 minutes of the game, but while they threatened often, scrumhalf Will Genia summed up their frustration at the All Blacks’ miserly defence.
“No matter how long you hold that pill for they’ve got a good enough defensive system to hold you out and they showed that. It was very, very hard,” he said.
One bleak spot for the All Blacks was an eye injury suffered by winger Sitiveni Sivivatu who is likely to miss their next Tri-Nations Test in South Africa on August 20.
But he is expected to be available for the final Test in the series against the Wallabies in Brisbane the following week. — AFP