All Blacks coach Graham Henry has described Sunday’s performance as outstanding and is hoping for a repeat showing in the World Cup final next week.
Henry and captain Richie McCaw were beaming at Sunday’s post-match press-conference, and the coach struggled to hold back the superlatives. The All Blacks beat the Wallabies 20-6 by overpowering them in the forward exchanges and by playing a smarter tactical game.
They smashed the Wallabies at the collisions and thus nullified David Pocock at the breakdown. They handled the Wallabies’ aerial assault with aplomb, and were spot on with most of their tactical kick returns. Their dominance in these facets allowed them to control both possession and territory.
‘It was outstanding,’ said Henry. ‘It was a heroic effort. I’m very proud of the boys and hopefully we can do it again next week.
‘The character the guys showed was superb, I couldn’t have asked for more.’
Henry singled out the effort of his captain. ‘I was very pleased with Richie’s ability as a player as well as his leadership. I know he will try to be modest and give credit to the tight five [for laying the platform], but he was just outstanding.’
As expected, McCaw did deflect the praise by hailing the efforts of the All Blacks’ pack.
‘You can’t single out one or two players,’ he said. ‘The scrum gave the backs some good ball to attack with, and from there we were able to get into good positions on the field and set up scoring chances. Big scrums can change the momentum of big games and we saw that tonight.
‘We realised that we needed to lift our intensity for a semi-final against a team like the Wallabies. We knew we had to take it to the next level, and I’m glad we were able to create the pressure and turn that into points.’
Turning his attention to France, McCaw said that the All Blacks wouldn’t stray from the game plan that brought them success against the Wallabies.
‘We will need the same type of performance if not a better one,’ he said. ‘We’ve given ourselves a chance by getting into the final, but we now have to prepare well in the build up to next week’s Test.’
Henry agreed that France shouldn’t be taken lightly. Neither Henry nor McCaw have forgotten the feeling of losing to the French in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final in Cardiff.
‘The job hasn’t been done yet, we will need to do it again next week,’ said Henry. ‘I think that the fact that it’s France will ensure that we get our feet on the ground. It will take a few days [after this semi-final victory] but we have a lot of respect for France and won’t take them lightly.’
On the injury front, Henry confirmed that All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu was struggling with a back spasm towards the end of Sunday’s game. The All Blacks will have an update on Nonu on Monday.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Eden Park