James Lawton: Jane accepts his shot at redemption after booze binge earns fury of team

His determination was one of the more constant factors in a game that had thepotential for an All Black nightmare

Eden Park

The New Zealand nation is still deep in mourning over the injury to Daniel Carter. It is desperate for every optimistic bulletin on the delicate fitness of inspirational captain Richie McCaw.

Also, the dressing room is beginning to resemble a battlefield medical station, which is still another reason why the All Blacks coach, Graham Henry, needed a drinking (and smoking) controversy about as much as a pistol placed against his temple.

Henry, though, is the kind of operator you suspect might be one of the last to crack in a session of Russian roulette and he has emerged from a day and night of escalating tension with a place in the semi-finals and an upbeat line even England's Martin Johnson couldn't quite produce in the days after Dwarfgate.

"Cory Jane is a proud All Black and after being disciplined for making a bad decision he needed to be tonight," declared Henry. "I thought he produced a good performance. His situation has been dealt with and now we move on to the semi-final game with Australia."

Jane, having just been plastered over the front page of the city's leading Sunday paper for not only being seen conspicuously drunk in a bar around the corner from the team hotel in a North Shore suburb, and breaking a ferociously enforced smoking ban, 72 hours before last night's quarter-final victory over Argentina, indeed put in a spectacular performance.

As the upwardly mobile Argentina moved briefly into a first-half lead that threatened a collective New Zealand seizure, the 28-year-old Jane ran as if several packs of hounds were at his heels.

To a degree, they were. Fury at his behaviour was written all over the faces of Henry and McCaw and along with the team's "disciplinary protocol" of regularly imposed fines there was little doubt that Jane – and his injured team-mate Israel Dagg would have been banished in less extreme circumstances.

With another All Black wing, Zac Guildford on the injured list, Jane got his shot at redemption. There was, however, none of the soothing talk that followed the late-night drinking of England vice-captain Mike Tindall and a number of his team-mates. England players, we were told, were merely relaxing and bonding and dealing with the pressures of being at the biggest tournament in rugby.

By comparison, Jane and Dagg were in danger of being classified as pariahs. This was team manager, Darren Shand, reacting to the disciplinary breakdown: "They are the ones who are going to feel the consequences because they are going to be known across the country as the guys who let the team down.

"What's most disappointing is that the guys would do that in a week when we are so affected by injuries. It's not what we expect in this team, particularly not in players who were due to play this week. [The Argentina game] was it for us, do or die, if we lose we're out."

Plainly, Jane, whose wife Aimee offered for him the excuse of having to operate under huge pressures these last few weeks, had those consequences carefully underlined before he was sent out into the face of a typically combative Argentine effort.

McCaw said: "At this time we want to make good decisions and it is very disappointing to hear that some bad ones have been made. But as Graham has said, the matter has been dealt with and we have to move on."

At times Jane moved with thrilling urgency, one early run turning the obdurate Argentine defence into the deepest confusion. His determination, and his striking potential, was one of the more constant factors in a game that had, for a few minutes, the potential for outright nightmare for the All Black team which every four years carries immense pressure into a tournament they last won in 1987. With the Wallabies scoring an astonishing victory over the reigning world champions South Africa after absorbing match-long intense pressure, the growing sense is of a New Zealand team reaching another severe challenge to its confidence.

Last night the odds against some sweet deliverance were mounting to new levels of discouragement with fresh casualties, including the veteran full-back Mils Muliaina, whose celebration of his 100th cap was muted by a shoulder injury Henry feared might be serious, and Carter's thinly experienced understudy Colin Slade, who limped off after a crashing tackle.

Even Jane, for whom outstanding performance had never been a greater imperative, slowed near the end after developing a limp.

None of this was in the mind of New Zealand when Carter so beautifully demolished the French in a group game. But that now seems half a lifetime ago. France, about whom the All Blacks are near phobic after suffering dramatic defeats to them in the 1999 and 2007 World Cups, are of course still alive and potential final opponents. It is something you perhaps wouldn't want mention to Graham Henry right now – not if you didn't want to provoke him into taking a drink.

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