Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick: Missed kick a little bit of history repeating

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Richie McCaw will continue to lead the All Blacks to better things. Photo / Getty Images
Richie McCaw will continue to lead the All Blacks to better things. Photo / Getty Images

It was a shame the All Blacks missed the chance to claim the world record for consecutive tests won - but it was not unprecedented and it will not stop this team from growing and excelling.

There was quite a spooky resemblance between the 18-18 draw against Australia in Brisbane last Saturday and the 19-19 draw played out - also in Brisbane - in 1988. Just like Richie McCaw's All Blacks, we had a chance of setting new marks but were also surprised by the Wallabies' performance that day and did not play as well as we could.

Just like last Saturday, the test hinged on a last-minute kick. After watching Dan Carter miss with his last-ditch drop goal, I sent Grant Fox a cheeky email, having him on about his last-minute kick at goal in 1988.

Foxy is now an All Black selector and was, of course, a wonderful match-winner but he had the chance in 1988 to win the test by converting John Kirwan's try with a few minutes to go - but missed.

Just like the 1988 team, I expect McCaw's All Blacks to go on to bigger and better things. Just like 1988, I thought Saturday's result was a question of saying all the right things but not really turning up on the day - one of those things that can happen in rugby, even at the top level. I don't want that to sound like it's an excuse; it's not. I mention it only because I know McCaw and his team will have recognised it and learned from it - just as they have shown they have learned other lessons.

In 1988, skipper Buck Shelford talked publicly about the All Blacks' quest to find "the perfect game". We never did achieve it, of course, though we came close at times - but it was a way of setting new goals and giving ourselves a target when we were, for a time, streets ahead of the opposition.

You can see the same sort of dynamic at play in this All Black side and in McCaw's leadership. He and they do not want to stop there.

The 1988 team rolled on after that 19-19 draw. In fact, if you add up all the matches that team played together, starting from the first match of the 1987 World Cup to when Australia beat us 21-9 in 1990 at Athletic Park, we were undefeated for exactly 50 matches over those four years.

By any measure, that's a remarkable record and I'm not sure it will ever be beaten.

For a start, it contained midweek matches in the good old days when we still had proper tours - and played against Australian provincial sides, Japanese selections and the likes of Munster, Swansea and Llanelli. Those matches are only infrequently played these days. That 1987-90 team also played 23 tests without defeat over that period.

I don't think the All Blacks now will give themselves numerical targets or anything like that. But you can see they want to win by playing a certain way - and I like that.

McCaw got a bit of flak for his decision late in the test to take the scrum to try and get near the Wallaby end zone to win the match. I thought he did the right thing and I probably would have done the same. It was time up, so you couldn't take a lineout.

In any case (just like in 1988), the All Black lineout wasn't so flash and, to me, it signalled a lot about attitude and the way the All Blacks want to play the game.

You'd also have to say it worked. The All Blacks got into a position to win the game - the kick just didn't go over, that's all. Go back to 2007 and the World Cup quarter-final against the French when the All Blacks didn't have a decent drop goal attempt. That's what I mean - they have learned lessons and they'll learn from this one, too.

I'm not expecting them to meet a lot of resistance on their European tour; nor do I expect there will be a lot of surprise selections. England will be tough at home, as always, but they have South Africa, Australia and Fiji before they get to the All Blacks. Wales will not be easy - they could be the toughest test.

Coach Steve Hansen has also said he won't be picking any bolters for this team and, frankly, he doesn't need to. All of those in the frame deserve to go on tour, I'd say. It will be fascinating, however, as this team grows older, to watch how Hansen and Co assess the need to replace some of the older hands. The 1987 team was criticised later for retaining too many of its veterans in the 1991 World Cup and it will be interesting to watch the evolution of this team.

One selection preference: Dane Coles as the third hooker. He has a competitive attitude which, in the past, has led in discipline problems on the field. But he seems to be better focused now. I like his mobility and the way he can run and pass as well as do his core functions.A word about the great Sir Wilson Whineray. It was sad to learn of his passing and, to me, he was one of the legends of the game. I can remember him introducing me at the old Grammar club in Ayr St, Parnell, in 1981 as the Auckland secondary schools player of the year award winner - with the award itself presented by the previous winner, one Grant Fox.

Sir Wilson was always an All Black to look up to. There are All Blacks and All Blacks, of course, but you never looked at Wilson Whineray without thinking: "Yes, he did it the right way ..."

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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