BRISBANE, September 14 – Coach Graham Henry on Sunday toasted the mighty All Blacks’ come-from-behind win over the Wallabies as their sweetest Tri-Nations victory to lock up the southern hemisphere rugby trophy for a fourth straight time.
New Zealand were staring at defeat, 17-7 down early in the second half, before mustering a magnificent closing effort to win 28-24 and clinch their ninth Tri-Nations’ crown at Lang Park here Saturday.
The stout-hearted triumph also secured the trans-Tasman Beldisloe Cup for the sixth straight year. New Zealand have a 2-1 series lead with one match remaining in Hong Kong in November.
Henry, with the knives out after early losses to South Africa and Australia, had the last laugh as the All Blacks rushed on 21 points in a 17-minute spell to have the Test in their keeping 12 minutes from time.
"What the guys have done is a very sweet feeling. This is the fourth Tri-Nations in a row and it’s probably the sweetest victory," Henry said.
"There’s a large number of new guys who haven’t played in this competition before. Half of them hadn’t played before so we were team-building as well as trying to be competitive and we came through, so that’s a good feeling."
It was a third consecutive Tri-Nations Test win after Auckland and Cape Town, all three achieved with the same starting 15.
The Tri-Nations’ success highlighted the incredible depth of New Zealand rugby with half of last year’s World cup squad including Carl Hayman, Chris Jack, Aaron Mauger, Luke McAlister, Doug Howlett and Byron Kelleher leaving to play overseas.
But when it came to the crunch the All Blacks prevailed to deny Kiwi Robbie Deans a memorable success in his first season as Wallabies’ coach.
"I think everyone feels they have contributed to the success," Henry said. "The guys who came on all made a difference, increased our intensity, our skill level and increased our communication and direction of the side."
"I think the guys got better as the game went on. I didn’t think we played particularly well in the first half.
"They showed a lot of guts and togetherness to come back from 10 points down, so I am exceptionally proud of the boys."
Champion openside flanker Richie McCaw, who once again was a major standout for the All Blacks at the breakdown, acclaimed his teammates’ tenacity to fight back after the Wallabies had the momentum.
"There’s six Tests in the Tri-Nations and at the end of it if we had done all right that’s what we were aiming for and it’s pleasing when you put that hard work in to get a reward," skipper McCaw said.
"This competition has shown that there’s very little between the three sides and to come out on top is something that is of significance."
Relative new boy Stephen Donald, who played a key role off the bench alongside Daniel Carter in the All Blacks’ storming final half-hour, said the senior players’ reaction at fulltime showed how much the result meant.
"You can see it in the coaches’ eyes and in the senior pros’ eyes just how rapt they are and what it means to get their hands on the Bledisloe and Tri-Nations again," Donald said.
"It really comes home when you see guys like Millsy (Mils Muliaina) and Rodney (So’oialo) and Richie (McCaw), just how rapt they are. The coaches are over the moon so it brings home what it all means."
The All Blacks will next play Australia in Hong Kong on November 1 in the final Bledisloe Cup match before playing Scotland, Ireland, Munster, Wales and England throughout the rest of November.