Saturday 20 January 2018

All Blacks poised on edge of greatness with Australia test

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw

Nick Mulvenney

THE world champion All Blacks will be knocking on the door of greatness if they can beat Australia to record a 17th successive test victory this weekend.

For New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw, however, it is simply a case of maintaining the standards set by the men who have worn the famous black jersey before him.

Should New Zealand prevail at Lang Park tomorrow, and few doubt they will, they would match the record for successive test wins by top tier nations held jointly by the All Blacks of the late 1960s and the South Africa team of 1997-98.

The world record stands at 18 matches and is held by Lithuania but that mark is undermined by the fact that the Baltic nation did not face a single team that had played in a World Cup when they went unbeaten from 2006 and 2010.

McCaw may be following in a long tradition of great All Black players but he is very much a modern athlete and so it was no surprise that when quizzed about the record today, he preferred to talk about the process of winning.

"That's a by-product of getting our preparation right this week and then performing right tomorrow night," the 31-year-old flanker said.

"There's a huge desire to play better, and if we do that job right, well then, those things take care of themselves.

"I'm not saying it's not been thought about a little bit, but the first thing is to back up a good performance from two weeks ago."

That performance was a mightily impressive 32-16 mauling of the Springboks in Johannesburg, a 16th victory in little more than 13 months since they last tasted defeat at the hands of Australia at Lang Park in August 2011.

The All Blacks side of the 1960s, featuring the likes of Colin Meads, Brian Lochore and Ken Gray, played fewer tests and needed nearly four years to achieve their winning streak.

"Some real legends among them and I've been lucky enough to meet them, they're real good men," said McCaw. "They probably played for similar reasons that we do but they did it over a long time.

"I think every time you play a test, you want to live up to the standards that they set over the years."

While New Zealand have been rarely looked better than in their last two tests, Australia have suffered an injury crisis and will field a relatively inexperienced team tomorrow.

McCaw will be facing the Wallabies for the 27th time, however, and is not expecting an easy ride.

"Last thing you want to do is let your standards slip, I think the intensity in training this week has been good and we want to put a good performance out there," he said.

"We're prepared for a big test. They've still got the Wallaby jumper on, they're going to be desperate to play well and there'll be intensity as there always is."

One other incentive for the All Blacks is to fittingly mark the 100th test appearance of hooker Keven Mealamu, the third New Zealander to reach the milestone after McCaw and Mils Muliaina.

"It's a hell of an achievement, and the first thing you want to do is get on the field and play well," McCaw said. "The rest of us, hopefully we can do the same to make it a memorable night for him."

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