only a miracle could stop the all blacks now...   6 Sep 2005

Nathan Burdon

Something would have to go awfully wrong between now and November for the All Blacks not to take a fairly comfortable result out of its four tests against the Home Nations. Pretty soon now we will be banned from calling it a Grand Slam, the ABs will be simply "taking it one test at a time" and "not getting ahead of ourselves". That was surely the message Graham Henry got when he asked Springboks coach Jake White what went wrong with South Africa’s tilt at the Grand Slam.

In White’s defence, it wasn’t just the Boks’ fault they couldn’t record the rare feat, there was also a certain New Zealand referee and a certain terrible decision that got in the way in the test against Ireland. But after a near perfect domestic season, the All Blacks would be expected to find few challenges during their northern trek.

Seven wins from eight tests, a three-nil sweep over the Lions, the Bledisloe and Tri Nations cups safely locked away for the summer. It makes the heart glow. And more than that Henry, Hansen and Smith are well on the way to their stated aim of developing 30 players capable of stepping into the national team at any time.

It’s the sort of depth the trio believes is needed to win a World Cup, and it’s also the sort of depth needed to play four tests on consecutive weekends. The All Blacks are going to take 34 players on the end-of-season tour and it’s unlikely any but a very small core of the squad will play in all four tests.

The biggest challenges will be the tests against England and Wales. Scotland is no longer a world power and Ireland is seen as a slightly one-dimensional, but still a real threat if the All Blacks let their guard down. While the Wallabies wilted under the strain of a player injury crisis, the 2005 Tri Nations was still one the best in the competition’s 10-year history. It shrugged off its image as a cash cow that had gone stale with one game, the massive clash of bodies which was the All Blacks v Springboks at Carisbrook. There was nothing between the teams over two tests, with the All Blacks getting through on bonus points. Ironically for the Boks, they scored two more competition points than last year, but couldn’t defend the trophy. Most of the All Blacks will take a welcome break now, only entering into the NPC during the final rounds.

Winger Rico Gear, played the most minutes of any All Black over the eight tests and there’s no prizes for guessing that Richie McCaw took the most hits.

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