Keep­ing the faith un­til fi­nal whis­tle

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport - By MARC HIN­TON

All Blacks skip­per Richie McCaw learnt a long time ago that you are never out of a game of rugby while you still have time on your side.

And he needed ev­ery ounce of that con­vic­tion at the Aviva Sta­dium in Dublin last weekend to lead his men to a his­tory- mak­ing vic­tory over Ire­land.

McCaw lauded the ‘‘be­lief’’ that al­lowed his team to con­jure one of the great es­capes in their his­tory and claw their way to an im­prob­a­ble 24-22 vic­tory and achieve test rugby’s first per­fect sea­son in the pro­fes­sional era.

When Ire­land led 19-0 in­side the first quar­ter and 22-7 at half­time, the All Blacks had looked in dan­ger of see­ing his­tory turned on its head.

In­stead of them cel­e­brat­ing their spe­cial sweep, it looked for all the world like it would be the Ir­ish toast­ing their first vic­tory over the All Blacks long into the Dublin evening.

The New Zealan­ders had been un­able to haul in their fired- up op­po­nents and when Ir­ish fly-half Jonathan Sex­ton had a handy penalty that would have ex­tended the Ir­ish lead to eight with just five min­utes or so re­main­ing, the game looked like it had slipped away from the world cham­pi­ons.

But Sex­ton missed – ‘‘if that had gone over it was prob­a­bly game over,’’ McCaw con­ceded – and some­how the All Blacks sur­vived a mis­cue or two over a dra­matic fi­nale to put re­place­ment back Ryan Crotty in for the try.

That lev­elled the scores, hand­ing five-eighth Aaron Cru­den his big­gest mo­ment in test rugby with a side­line con­ver­sion at the sec­ond at­tempt.

‘‘It comes down to be­lief,’’ McCaw said af­ter a sap­ping en­counter in which he and his men had been out­played for the great ma­jor­ity of it.

‘‘When I was a young player and first started in the pro­vin­cial game our cap­tain at the time [Todd Black­ad­der] taught me some­thing pretty im­por­tant. We were down by a sim­i­lar mar­gin, 29 to very lit­tle. I thought the game was over and he said ‘be­lieve’, and we got home in that game.

‘‘Since then I’ve never, ever given up, and al­ways been proud of All Black teams, that no mat­ter whether you’re be­hind, seem­ingly out of the game, you never stop be­liev­ing there’s a chance.

‘‘We had 15 guys out there still be­liev­ing to­day, right to the last minute and it’s amaz­ing what can hap­pen.

‘‘For me as cap­tain, as soon as I drop my head what are the other boys go­ing to do?

‘‘ You’ve got to re­mem­ber while there’s still time, there’s a chance.’’

McCaw’s ref­er­ence was to an un­likely Ran­furly Shield vic­tory against Wellington in 2001 at the old Jade Sta­dium; the les­son he learned that day has stayed with him.

The 32-year-old, in his 124th test, ad­mit­ted the emo­tions were mixed in the chang­ing sheds af­ter such an un­likely vic­tory to­day.

‘‘It’s a bit of a funny one I guess – there’s relief and we’re pretty happy to have got across the line but we re­alise it could eas­ily have gone the other way,’’ McCaw said.

‘‘Per­haps on another day it might have. Even though it was a pretty ugly per­for­mance from our point of view, we weren’t al­lowed to play.

‘‘To get across the line and be­lieve, and to get there, it’s a pretty spe­cial bunch of men to be able to do that.

‘‘It’s a bit of a funny feel­ing but there’s def­i­nitely a few smiles in there.’’

McCaw said Sex­ton’s late penalty miss had pro­vided just the sense of pos­si­bil­ity that the All Blacks needed to pluck their rab­bit from the hat.

‘‘When that missed, you could see a sense of lift in the boys – there was still a chance,’’ he said.

And per­haps in the Ir­ish boys you could see they were try­ing to eat up as much time as they could. Some­times when that hap­pens an op­por­tu­nity will come.

‘‘We talked about it, that there will be a chance and it’s go­ing to be about see­ing if we’re good enough to take it,’’ McCaw said. ‘‘That’s the way it turned out.’’ Good enough and lucky enough. It was an ef­fec­tive com­bi­na­tion on a spe­cial af­ter­noon in Dublin when the All Blacks dug as deep as they’ve had to all sea­son and achieved the per­fect sea­son in such an im­per­fect man­ner.

You bet­ter be­lieve it.

Vic­to­ri­ous: From left, Ryan Crotty, Richie McCaw and Ma’a Nonu of the All Blacks cel­e­brate their win af­ter the rugby test match be­tween Ire­land and New Zealand at Aviva Sta­dium on Novem­ber 24, in Dublin, Ire­land. Photo: PHIL WAL­TER/ GETTY IM­AGES

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