Stuff.co.nz's MARC HINTON says the All Blacks' no-excuses mentality could result in a big response in Auckland on Saturday.
The All Blacks have slowly but surely circled the wagons ahead of Saturday's deciding Test against the British & Irish Lions. And no one does siege mentality quite like these blokes.
It has been interesting to note the responses out of the All Blacks camp since Saturday's 24-21 second Test defeat to the Lions at the Cake Tin. They have taken a rare home loss – their first in 48 Tests and eight years – on the chin, which is exactly how it needed to be taken.
It is all very well being good winners, which the All Blacks get more practice at than almost any other sporting team on the planet. But the true test of your character, your resolve and your class is how you handle a defeat when it sneaks up and knocks you on your backside.
So far, the All Blacks have handled just the fifth loss they have suffered since Hansen took charge in 2012, and first on home soil, in the absolute right fashion. Which suggests to me that something rather special could be brewing for Eden Park on Saturday night when this series for the ages will get the dramatic denouement so many hoped for when it began.
There has been no hiding behind excuses post-Wellington, of which there could have been a few, and no attempts to disguise the defeat as anything other than what it was. The better team won, as they almost always do in sport, and Steve Hansen and his men have steadfastly accepted this reality in the aftermath of a dramatic evening in Wellington.
Sounds easy, right. But it isn't, in sport.
If you've listened to Lions coach Warren Gatland speaking to the media after his three defeats on this tour, you will have heard a blow-by-blow rundown on all the little things that went against his team during the 80 minutes, and by extension contributed to the defeat.
That's an Excuse Mentality, and it almost always prevents a team reaching its true potential.
The All Blacks have steadfastly resisted this path post-Wellington. I'm sure the leaders of the team – Hansen, skipper Kieran Read and other wise heads – gathered the troops in and made it clear that, as much as it stung, as much as they might have been tempted to pluck some of that desirable fruit from the Excuse Tree, that they had to be men about this and save their responses for seven days' time, on their favourite home ground of Eden Park.
So there was no referencing the 14 vs 15 thing, which, let's face it, was their own doing anyway, so would be a pretty lame thing to complain about.
(As an aside, didn't the fact that the All Blacks had to play 14 against 15 for nearly an hour actually turn it into an utterly compelling Test match. Maybe they should be forced to start with 14 against all tier-two nations in future, just in the spirit of levelling the playing field.)
And, of course, there were those moments within the game that didn't go their way. Sean O'Brien's swinging arm to Waisake Naholo's head didn't get picked up. Big deal. It happens.
And maybe Mako Vunipola could have been dealt with more harshly for his couple of cheap shots on Beauden Barrett. Yeah, but this is rugby, and you can go through a tape of almost any game and uncover such moments that could have, would have, should have been dealt with differently.
The truth is, Sonny Bill Williams let his team down with a moment of madness, and they paid the price. There is no argument that Williams deserved anything less than the red card he received. But also no debate that being undermanned for 56 minutes ultimately cost the All Blacks any chance of victory to close out the series.
But that was then. And this is now.
It now all becomes about the All Black response. They have given the Lions a sniff of a famous series victory. Now they must slam that door shut.
To do so they will have to be both physical and disciplined (a difficult combination in the modern game). And also go back to what makes them so good, so feared – that creative, fast-paced attacking game which the Lions have been successful at limiting thus far. At moments like this, you have to, do you.
These are almost certainly the best two rugby teams on the planet. They're about to go at it for 80 minutes to decide a series. There are no excuses for failure. Just reasons to get the job done.
– Article courtesy of Stuff.co.nz/rugby
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images