Mils Muliaina admits it is the No. 1 topic of the All Blacks’ week. How do they match up to the elevated level established against Australia 10 days ago when they take on South Africa in Cape Town this Saturday?
Given the alarmingly fluctuating fortunes of the All Blacks in just seven days from the Sydney to Auckland Tri-Nations Tests, it’s anyone’s guess how New Zealand will perform this Saturday at Newlands.
But Muliaina accepts the bar has been raised and it’s up to the players to match it. “Raising the bar and then trying to match it next time out is always something you are aware of” he said at the team’s luxury hotel overlooking Cape Town harbour. “Predominantly in the past, we have had a good performance but then haven’t quite backed it up the following week.
“We have had some discussions about how we are going to go about that. We have to try and emulate what we did in Auckland as best we can and hopefully get the result we want. But it’s not just a mental thing; there is a little bit more to it than that. Obviously, you have got to do all your homework and then you have got to be on edge and that is probably the hardest thing.”
In other words, producing a performance when you’re heavily under the cosh is one thing. Doing it again, reaching those same elevated heights just 7 or 14 days later, is not easy. Ask the Springboks. Just a week after they had won in Dunedin and lifted their whole Tri-Nations tour, they flopped in Perth, just couldn’t get up for the game in the same way.
Muliaina said “It is easier if you have got your backs against the wall, to get up. That extra little bit of excitement comes from being backed into a corner. You know you have to deliver.
“But now we have had a good performance how do you lift yourselves up to that same level as the last time ? We have got to try and figure that and do our best to follow it through.”
The All Blacks have enjoyed some superb early days of weather during their Cape Town stay, although the forecast is not as good for later in the week. But for tight head prop Greg Somerville, there was one big surprise in town.
Somerville made it crystal clear that the South African tight head he rates more than most is B.J.Botha, who isn’t anywhere near the current ‘Boks squad. The New Zealander didn’t, of course, say so but it was pretty obvious he is relieved Botha won’t be playing at Newlands on Saturday.
“He’s a very good player; they must have some terrific talents if he can’t get into the squad” he said. A lot of South Africans would agree with him and they rate Botha as by far the better scrummager than CJ van der Linde.
Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was expected to name ‘Beast’ Mtawarira at loose head prop for Saturday’s Test and you couldn’t blame the All Blacks for believing there is a serious opportunity to target the South African front row. Frankly, it looks far from convincing and was only dominant against Argentina last Saturday in Johannesburg after Pumas tight head prop Pedro Ledesma had departed injured after half an hour.