Richie McCaw's world champions never believe they are beaten, writes former All Blacks coach JOHN MITCHELL.
The last sequence of play in Dublin, where the All Blacks scored a match-winning converted try against Ireland, reminded me of my third game in charge of the national side, against Argentina in Buenos Aires in 2001, when the Pumas kicked back to us and Scott Robinson scored a last-gasp try that gave us a 24-20 win.
Before that, my chewing gum had taken a hammering as I thought about having to go into a boardroom to explain how we had lost to a nation we had never lost to before. But then I reminded myself to have faith in the team.
While belief played a part in both of those wins, luck was also involved. The All Blacks, though, tend to make their own luck because of their ambitious mindset and willingness to work hard for results.
It took an 8-7 win against France in the 2011 World Cup final for the All Blacks to go on and play with an even greater confidence and freedom that saw them win all 14 of their Tests in 2013. They have set a new benchmark that the Boks now have to try to reach. The Boks need to aim to beat the All Blacks once, and then twice in a row. That would give them a confidence boost that you cannot believe.
What set the All Blacks apart in 2013?
– Their substitutes brought new energy. For example, against Ireland Beauden Barrett and Ryan Crotty attacked the line directly and with pace, breaking the first tackle every time.
– As I explained in my previous SA Rugby magazine column, the management of players in terms of their well-being, training load and game time, which allows them to peak and reload, is exceptional.
– Their preparation is excellent, with the All Blacks coaches spending time with the Super Rugby franchises and preparing the players, in terms of strategy and methods, before Tests.
– Their excellent repeat-speed fitness, ability to bounce up in repeat effort and their anaerobic threshold, which has minimal drop-off between the first minute and the last, was evident in that last passage of play against Ireland. It allows them to get shape back on the game, whether in attack or defence, and come out of chaos. There is none better at this than Sam Whitelock, who arrives quickly at the breakdown, makes tackles and carries the ball. How quickly does he get back up to his feet with his eyes on the ball? He works just as hard getting back as he does getting forward.
– Their players can beat a man one on one. They take the defender away and get in behind the ball, while most other sides carry the ball square pre-contact and are too lateral in their supporting attack.
– Their line speed together allows them to be effective in the tackle and assist in contact, and they love going past the ball at the tackle.
– The pressure from the collective line, starting at the first defender, is an example of them working with a team-mate whether he is faster or slower (no disrespect to the tight forwards). The tackler keeps his channel, tracks the inside shoulder, repositions very well for steppers and cuts the ball-carrier’s legs, going through and forward in the tackle, wrapping arms around the ball-carrier and ending up on top. The tackler immediately bounces back up to his feet and fights for the space past the ball. The tackle-assist player works hard on the inside of his team-mate and targets the area under the ball going forward as a result of the dominant tackle. If the tackler is not dominant, the tackle-assist player reads the situation well and fills the line. You have to earn your carry against this mob!
I thoroughly enjoyed a read by Irish writer and former international Neil Francis, who described the All Blacks as a Kiwi soldier with a warrior spirit. It’s OK to hurt on the grass but not on the scoreboard. To be an All Black right now is to be a thinker, to be trusted, to quickly belong, to be respected and to be brave.
As coach Steve Hansen said: ‘The jersey won’t stand up on its own, it needs people to fill it up and do the right thing.’
You will not see a better example of composure, belief, trust and patience than the current All Blacks. Well done to a special group of players for achieving what no other professional side has been able to do before – win all their Test matches in a calendar year – and to Richie McCaw, Hansen, his coaching group and his management team, the NZRU, and sponsors adidas and AIG for the part they have played in allowing the team to get the right preparation and produce the required performances.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images