Henry urges caution as All Blacks close in on the title

New Zealand 20 Australia 10
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The Independent Online

New Zealand coach Graham Henry attempted to hose down expectations yesterday after his side retained the Bledisloe Cup and all but secured the Tri-Nations title with this victory over Australia on Saturday night. Henry's side need just one point from their final two games to clinch their fifth Tri-Nations title in six years, and have established themselves as firm favourites for next year's home World Cup after developing a fast but brutally confrontational style that has delivered 13 straight wins.

"We just try to be our best every time," Henry said. "That's all we can do. We can't control the uncontrollable. We are always trying to be better and to raise the bar, but we could get smashed in South Africa [on 21 August] and those expectations could come back down to base level again."

Henry said that the Wallabies had shown backbone to rebound from the 49-28 thrashing in Melbourne last weekend, and would be a threat at the World Cup: "It was our toughest game [of the season]. It was a traditional Australia-New Zealand Test match. They have a number of players who aren't playing at the moment who will make a huge difference to their team, and they will be a very competitive side during the World Cup."

Henry echoed the thoughts of his captain Richie McCaw, who rated the All Blacks' defensive effort in making 110 tackles, and missing only five, as key to the victory: "Our defence, structurally, was outstanding. We probably didn't hit as hard in the contact as we have but the structure was superb."

Henry said he thought his team may have been feeling the effects of the season so far, having played seven Tests in nine weeks. The squad have been instructed not to train until Thursday, before reassembling next weekend for the trip to South Africa. "The guys need some space and we need to be careful when we get to South Africa. I think the guys were just feeling the effects of so many Test matches," he added.

The Kiwis' only injury concern is the scrum-half Jimmy Cowan, who was ruled out of Saturday's contest with Australia after sustaining a rib injury the previous week in Melbourne.

Rocky Elsom, the Wallabies captain, was upbeat after the game despite the defeat. "I think there was definitely a building block there," he said. "While we didn't get the result we wanted, that was a very focused performance. There are things we would like to change, but it's always like that. As far as the way we want to play and how we want to play, for the large part [of the game] you saw that. There were a lot of positive things [about the performance], but we can't rest on that.

"We didn't win and we weren't as sharp as we wanted to be. We're not happy with where we're sitting , so it's important that we get back to work and build on that."