Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Losses can mean a testing train trip


The train trip from Sydney central to the international rugby stadium at Homebush takes about 25 minutes.

Usually it's a cushy ride before and after All Black tests but since tests began out west, the journeys as John Mitchell would have it, have been a hazardous adventure.

The All Blacks and Wallabies have met in a dozen tests since the arena opened in 1999 and the results are split.

The first duel was a shocker, the worst defeat in All Black history.

Taine Randell's broken look remains one of the enduring images from the 28-7 defeat that night.

There were similar feelings after the 2003 World Cup semifinal when the Wallabies claimed the upset. It was best to talk to the window, feign deafness or laryngitis on the late train trip home.

The balance has since been redressed with a couple of single-point margins helping the results column which should go into the black for the first time at the same venue tomorrow.

History shows the All Blacks have won 68 per cent of their tests against the Wallabies and that success line has risen steadily in the last decade.

The stalemate 18-all blip in Brisbane late last year when the All Blacks missed a chance to extend their winning test sequence has been a thistle under the big black blanket for some time.

Not as big as the gorse bush delivered by England at Twickenham.

As coach Steve Hansen would caution, first things first. Let's not put the Pommie cart in front of the horse lads. Let's get this job done in Sydney first, then Auckland and so on. There's no point in getting ahead of yourselves which is what we did a touch last year in Brizzie. We did not get the bone-deep stuff done, nor drill down deep enough in our preparation and we got found out.

Those sort of Hansen entreaties will have been threaded through the All Blacks preparation since they got together a week ago.

A large chunk of the All Black squad are also carrying the hurt of not finishing out their Super 15 campaign again. Those Crusaders fell to the Chiefs in their last real hit-out and should have added that lesson to their reprisal routines.

Like most of these battles in the top echelons of sport, the mental fight will create a margin in the outcome.

The All Blacks know Hansen and Co are looking at 2015 and sorting out those whose flame will burn to that World Cup and those whose spark is flickering. They have jettisoned the tiring legs of Piri Weepu and others will be under the long-haul skills and upside-inspection criteria.

They need players who bring diligence and excellence regularly rather than any spasmodic elevation when the real heat goes on.

Three survivors return on each side from the last 2008 Wallaby coaching handover when Robbie Deans' new group cleaned up and a similar emotional thread has attached itself to McKenzie's mob.

Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu stack up against Stephen Moore, James Horwill and Adam Ashley-Cooper from the clash five years ago.

Not much in that you'd say but the 874 combined caps among the All Blacks should deliver a stronger response than the Wallaby eagerness.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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