Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw both confessed to a sense of relief in putting the ghost of Twickenham 2012 to rest.
Steve Hansen and Richie McCaw both confessed to a sense of relief in putting the ghost of Twickenham 2012 to rest on Saturday, as New Zealand continued their incredible unbeaten run of 13 tests matches.
“Look, that was a real test match, and was right up there in terms of intensity,” confessed McCaw.
“I said last year that the defeat would be pretty hard to stomach during my sabbatical, but I'm delighted we've turned that around today.”
New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen was pragmatic in his assessment of the match statistics.
“It was a great test match but also a strange game. If you broke it down to quarters, we took the first one, England the second, the third was shared, and we just sneaked over the finishing line in the fourth,” said Hansen.
“The most pleasing aspect was after we lost our lead, the guys stayed 'in the process' and our focus was excellent. I think we just edged superiority in the set piece in that last quarter, and that was our turning point.”
“To lose Dan Carter (strained Achilles) in his 100th test in the 24th minute was a real blow to us, and devastating for Daniel personally, especially after the way he had controlled the game in the opening period. But Aaron Cruden is the future of New Zealand rugby, and we didn't lose a lot when he came on. I was delighted with his performance and calmness under pressure.”
McCaw, one of the greatest of All Blacks, admitted that England's power before the interval rocked his side, as New Zealand were starved of possession.
“We had a long chat at half time about territory and possession. England came at us hard at the breakdown in that period and edged it,” added McCaw.
“We talked about the set piece and collision areas and really buckling down and playing for field position.
“Slowly, we managed to get back into the game, and exerted some real pressure on their lineout once Dylan Hartley had gone off. I think also the scrum battle evened out a little, and we managed to get a couple of quick balls from the base, so to come back from a two point deficit was pleasing, and showed the character in this group of players.
“In that situation we've learned there's no point in worrying about blowing a lead, you just have to go back to basics and focus upon what you're going to do next. The key to getting on top in any footy game is playing in the right area of the pitch, and I think in the last ten minutes we did that better than England.
Hansen was also strong in his praise for wing Julian Savea, a player who spent the early part of last week on a drip, after a serious lung infection.
“Julian was outstanding. He was spurred on by others performing well when he was ill, and his accuracy under the high ball and in defence were outstanding considering how he started the week,” added Hansen.
“When a player as dangerous as that gets a try with his first touch, confidence soars, and he put in a performance of immense quality.
“Ma'a Nonu also showed what finesse he's added to his game. People are already talking about his offload for the second try; that comes from practice. He trains to offload like that, learns how to do it, and when he has to execute in the pressure of a test, he's able to do it. It's not a fluke and it's not luck, it's planned and practiced.”
McCaw also noted the way England's youngsters took the game to New Zealand and was generous in his praise.
“There was a period of 30 or 40 minutes either side of half time when they were definitely winning the contact area and giving us some real problems. Both Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury were at the heart of that. They gave us a real battle and can be proud of that,” stated McCaw.
“However, the key to victory in test match rugby is winning the defining moments of the game, and looking back, I think we just shaded those moments and that was telling.
“We probably spent too much time wrestling with them at the breakdown in that period. After half time we decided to not commit to that, and to put them on the floor, and maintain our line shape, and that's when the momentum changed.
“The only negative for me was losing Dan Carter so early on such a special day for him. He's very dejected right now, but the good news is it's not the Achilles he ruptured earlier in his career, and it's not a full tear, just more of a strain.”
So, New Zealand walk away from Twickenham tested, beaten and bruised, but more importantly, undefeated this year. McCaw, a man that's won virtually every honour in the game, is relishing the trip to Ireland for the All Black finale of 2013.
“Yes, it's very exciting for the team,” acknowledged McCaw.
“We know we have a very special group of players, and to go into the last test of the season with a chance to make history is just unbelievable, even after winning a world cup and so on.
“We can't wait for next weekend.”
by James While at Twickenham