Kiwis count on solid start

Richie McCaw says a better opening half compared to the past couple of weeks will go a long way in claiming a victory at King’s Park.

In the All Blacks’ opening Tri-Nations encounter, they trailed Australia 13-3 in the first half. If it weren’t for Berrick Barnes’s wrong option that blew a try - when the score was 10-3 after 17 minutes – the hosts would have been all but out of the contest.

New Zealand started similarly poorly in Bloemfontein, going down 17-3 early in the second half – a scoreline which should have been even greater. On both occasions, the Kiwis fought back, but McCaw realises they may not be so fortunate again.

The All Blacks captain said they had attempted to address the problem in training.

‘That’s a good question actually [why we've been starting so badly],’ McCaw told ‘Last week it was just mistakes that held us back, while against the Wallabies we were off the pace physically and slipped off a few tackles, which allowed them to get on top of us.

‘That was different to Bloemfontein where we gave away those penalties that put us at the wrong end of the field.

‘We must start with a physical edge, but be calm so we don’t make silly mistakes or give away silly penalties that allows the pressure to build on you.’

Coach Graham Henry said they had simulated certain situations at training that they expect to encounter against the Springboks.

‘We’ll have to do quite a bit differently to last week,’ said Henry. ‘We have put things into action at practice, that I won’t discuss here, which will help us be effective. The players have all enjoyed the week in Durban and are in a good space mentally.

‘People have suggested we were having a warm-up last week to play well here. That’s not the case, the All Blacks target every Test.  But if we win one from two on tour, it will be a success. That will be very nice,’ he said.

Although the sea-level conditions will suit the visitors better than the Bloemfontein altitude, McCaw said King’s Park is just as intimidating as any South African stadium.

‘They’re all pretty similar to be fair,’ said the All Blacks captain. ‘The advantage compared to last week is we’ve played here a few times, that familiarity will help. But it’s the same old story: If the Boks get on top and the crowd gets behind them, it can be a lonely place out there.

‘If you perform, you take them out of the game. The younger guys may not be used to it, but the older heads are used to putting the crowd to the side. We have to be good enough to deal with it.’

By Grant Ball, in Durban