Fri, Aug 18, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Wallabies fearful of a Blackwash

TITLE CLINCHER All Black coach Graham Henry has said that winning could be his team's Achilles heel, it's nonetheless hard to imagine them losing

AFP , AUCKLAND

The All Blacks head into tomorrow's Tri-Nations rugby Test against Australia aiming to take the title by completing a 3-0 whitewash -- while pondering the possible benefits of a shock loss.

Coach Graham Henry has raised the theory that perhaps winning is not all it's cracked up to be when the ultimate goal is the World Cup, still more than a year away.

As the only unbeaten team in the Tri-Nations championship -- having downed Australia twice and South Africa once -- the All Blacks will seal back-to-back tournaments before their last two matches if they win this weekend.

But while trophies in the cupboard look good, the All Blacks are well aware they have not won the World Cup since 1987, and reversing that record is Henry's ultimate goal.

"I think it's [winning] an Achilles heel for us at the moment," he said, reflecting on how the world's top-ranked side has gone unbeaten for 13 Tests since losing to South Africa last year.

"We have to go to the next level [in preparation for the World Cup] and often you go to the next level by losing. Then you dissect the reasons why you lost ... analyse all of that then set some targets and go again," he said.

"We've won a few in a row, we're beaten once in two years -- it's a problem: can you learn from winning?" he said.

However, the chances of an Australian win look remote -- it's five years since they last won in New Zealand and 20 years since they were victorious at Auckland's Eden Park.

Yet, Wallabies coach John Connolly is not prepared to throw in the towel, telling journalists there was "a belief" in the side that they can hold their own up front and come out the winners.

The Wallabies scrum was trashed by the All Blacks in the previous Tests in Christchurch and Brisbane, yet Connolly talked boldly about their confidence for the third Test.

"I don't think our players have got any scars, I've seen no evidence of that at all," he said.

"Our guys still have to think I've got to do this, I've got to do that. If we concentrate through the game [on Saturday] we will hold New Zealand," he said.

For all his talk about the benefits of losing, Henry is not prepared to ease up against the Wallabies, keeping the same forward pack apart from the rotation of locks Ali Williams and Jason Eaton.

"We have got the wood on Australia [in the scrums] at the moment and I don't want to let them off the hook. We want to continue with that psychological edge there," Henry said.

"I think this is really a watershed game for them [Australia], a measuring stick game for them. It will be the measuring of where they are with their team," he said.

Henry also noted Australia's history of lifting their game when the chips are down, as evidenced last year when they fought back from a 0-20 deficit to close within one point before eventually losing 24-34.

"We are expecting a big game," Henry said. "They have nothing to lose and they'll really play to the peak of their powers."

Meanwhile, inside center Aaron Mauger remained the All Blacks' only injury concern yesterday after he tweaked his groin during training earlier in the week.

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