Mountain to climb at altitude     25 Aug 2006    

They have beaten the Lions, won the Grand Slam, won 18 of 19 Tests in two years and already secured the 2006 Philips Tri Nations. But the All Blacks coaches know they have a mountain to climb if they are to beat the Springboks at altitude in Pretoria this weekend.

““We’ve played them a couple of times in the last couple of years and come up with nothing,” All Blacks coach Graham Henry said.

“We haven’t had a result in South Africa since this management team has been together. They’re always highly physical and the always put their bodies on the line when they play in South Africa and it brings the best out of them.”

New Zealand has a better-than-average winning record in South Africa (9-6) since they re-entered the world game in 1992, but for the current All Blacks management team it has been a tough nut to crack, losing both games: 16-22 in 2005 and 26-40 in 2004.

With 11 changes from the team that beat the Wallabies last weekend Henry and the selectors have again put faith in the rotation policy that has seen the team win every match since first employed last year.

“The rotation policy has worked and will continue through the Philips Tri Nations. We want to be fresh but we also want to win so it’s trying to keep the balance right I guess.”

Ironically, the last time the Springboks lost a Philips Tri Nations match at home was when they were thrashed 52-16 in Pretoria by the All Blacks in 2003. Five of this weekend’s playing XV (Mils Muliaina, Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorne (c), Ali Williams, Greg Somerville) started in that match.

If the All Blacks are to have a 100 per cent record in this year’s competition (a feat they achieved in ’96, ’97 and ’03) they will need to do something they have only accomplished once in Test history – won two games in South Africa in one visit.

“It happened once before when Fitzy (Sean Fitzpatrick) was the captain and they won the series in South Africa. The boys are well aware of those sorts of things. They’re trying to develop some legacies for this group of players and they’re doing reasonably well.

“I’m sure they will look at this series to have a crack at.”

Also counting against the All Blacks is the travel to altitude after a hard Test last week. If they crack the duck in Pretoria it will be a colossal victory for the visitors.

It would also be a leap, rather than a step toward World Cup glory, only 12 months away.