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Isa Nacewa: Mental edge sets All Blacks apart from the rest


All Blacks legend Richie McCaw knows that the only way to stay in the team is to keep delivering

All Blacks legend Richie McCaw knows that the only way to stay in the team is to keep delivering

All Blacks legend Richie McCaw knows that the only way to stay in the team is to keep delivering

I can't see anything other than an All Blacks victory this afternoon, even though Australia have become a great team under Michael Cheika and they are the only team to have beaten them this year.

For anyone to beat New Zealand, everything has to be aligned: everything they try has to come off, everything has to be at 100pc. . . and the All Blacks have to be a little bit off.

All that happened in Sydney in the summer, and I just don't think that happens twice in a calendar year. A week later, New Zealand put 40 points on the Wallabies in Eden Park.

The All Blacks won't fear Australia, but they have a massive respect for them.

Cheiks has made a massive difference, just like he does everywhere he goes. He's a winner.

He has that ability to see what the end goal needs to be, and he stops at nothing to get there.

He got the rules changed to get Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell back, he got Israel Folau to commit to rugby union - he convinced him to stay when he was wavering. He brought Kane Douglas back from Leinster, where things hadn't gone right for him, and turned him into probably the best second-row in the World Cup so far.

He just has that ability to get what he wants. However, I just think that the All Blacks have the upper hand.

They are not bigger, faster or stronger than any other team, but they've got the mental edge to execute under pressure, in the championship minutes.

They won't let the pressure of the final affect them. They are so good at focusing only on what counts.

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Mentally, they prepare for every match the same way. They block out all the emotion. They have learnt from the last World Cup, and the last four years, how to deal with weeks like this. They are the best in the world at it.

I've been in touch with a couple of the guys, and I know they are totally relaxed, treating this week like any other week. They've been taking in the sights of London, going for coffee, doing what they would normally do.

It's the same with all the retiring players - the team won't let the emotion affect them.


New Zealand never let emotion get in the way - one of the reasons they have pretty much been the top side in the world since international rugby began is their ruthless selection.

Players aren't picked on reputation - you have to perform. There's no two ways about it. As an All Black, you might get one second chance, but by then, the next man is probably past you.

It doesn't matter how famous you are. You can be an icon, then suddenly gone. Christian Cullen was the All Blacks' all-time top try-scorer, but he played his last Test when he was 26. Dougie Howlett broke Cullen's record and he was gone at 29. Same age as Josh Kronfeld.

Corey Jane and Israel Dagg started the last World Cup final, and they didn't make the cut this time - Israel's only 25. Joe Rokocoko was gone at 27.

Dan Carter lost his place to Aaron Cruden, who is now injured. Even Richie McCaw knows he has to keep delivering, or someone like Sam Cane will be in there.

New Zealand has a fairly small population - just under four-and-a-half million - but rugby is the main sport.

Every kid in New Zealand wants to be an All Black - compared to Ireland, where you've got other sports, like soccer, Gaelic football and hurling. Potential Test-quality rugby players might never play the sport.

In New Zealand, pretty much it's only if rugby doesn't work out that you go into other sports. A lot of talent goes to rugby league, but pretty much anyone who might be good at rugby gets the chance to prove it. Not many fall through the net.

So there's always players putting pressure on the starting All Blacks. And that's what makes it so amazing that there are so many 100-cap guys in this squad - McCaw, Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Keven Mealamu.

These are the most competitive players you will meet. They just keep driving each other's standards.

And they have to. Because the hardest thing isn't becoming an All Black, it's staying an All Black. There's plenty of players who excel in Super Rugby, but to last in the All Blacks squad, it is about being mentally elite - guys who always do it at a higher level when it counts.

The way Gilbert Enoka, the mental skills coach who a lot of guys have said was the key to winning the last World Cup, once put it, there is a 'no dickheads' policy.

Guys might get one or two caps, and either get too big for themselves, or can't handle the expectation of humility that comes with being an All Black.

The All Blacks guys don't give away many of their secrets about what goes on in that dressing-room, but one thing I do know is that you have to leave your ego at the door.

These guys are superstars back home. They are put on a pedestal - a good few of them are at the level Brian O'Driscoll is here. But there's a culture of humility - the senior players still sweep the changing rooms after a game.

You don't make it if you don't have the right attitude to be an All Black - even if you have the talent.

And this current group are setting whole new standards, even compared to the 2011 side.

They win so many games in the 80th minute - as Ireland know well. In those championship minutes, these guys perform, and that's what makes them the best.

In the 2011 final, they didn't really perform. A massive sigh went up around a whole nation at the final whistle, as if to say, we've finally done it.

The weight was off the shoulders, and that has benefited this new side - there are a lot of changes since then, and guys like Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith have been able to take it to a new level.

The best thing about this All Black team is the way they notice how the game is flowing, take account of the weather conditions or whatever, and play the game accordingly - they can move to Plan B, or even Plan C.

That's one of the hardest things to do, and to do it so well shows the leadership they have. They have leaders in all the key positions, people who know how to win.

Last week, they showed they can close out a game - they were ruthless, their defence went up a notch in the last 10 minutes.

It was close but I never thought the All Blacks were going to lose.

It's knockout rugby, you do whatever you can to win. To beat the Aussies - whose defence has been outstanding - they will need to show a bit more.

When they ramp up the pace and intensity, it's so hard to match that.

The All Blacks get more dangerous as they go through the phases - they wear teams down, whether it's to win a penalty or find the mismatch. And they are so good at going up a level when they've got an 'advantage'.

I think that's going to be the difference - taking the points when they are available, because the All Blacks defence looks impenetrable - the Boks didn't look like scoring a try last week.

And it can't hurt that New Zealand have held the Bledisloe Cup since 2003!

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