All Blacks not tempting fate despite winning all 13 Test matches this year.
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw refused to get carried away after the world champions left themselves just one game away from a perfect year with a 30-22 win over England at Twickenham on Saturday.
The All Blacks’ latest victory took their tally for 2013 to played 13, won 13 and meant only Ireland, in what will be New Zealand’s final match of the season in Dublin next weekend, could stop them from retaining their 100 percent record.
No international team in the professional era has enjoyed a perfect calendar year, with the New Zealand side led by Wayne Shelford, that won all seven of their Tests in 1989, the last major nation to achieve the feat when rugby union was still an amateur sport.
New Zealand themselves came close to perfection again when they won 11 games and drew one under John Hart in 1997.
But they will be overwhelming favourites to make it a perfect 14 out of 14 record this year following Ireland’s 32-15 loss to Australia at Dublin’s Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
But McCaw, speaking to reporters before the Wallabies’ wrapped up victory, said it was vital New Zealand did not get ahead of themselves.
“We’ve given ourselves the opportunity — the key is not turning up thinking it will happen,” he said.
The All Blacks set about making amends for last year’s record 38-21 loss to England at Twickenham when wing Julian Savea scored the first of his two tries with fewer than two minutes on the clock.
And when Kieran Read crossed England’s line in the 17th minute, the visitors led 17-3 to the despair of the bulk of a crowd of nearly 82,000.
However, England hit back through a try by lock Joe Launchbury and, with fly-half Owen Farrell kicking 17 points, they actually led 22-20 heading into the final quarter.
But asthma-sufferer Savea, who last week was in a Paris hospital with a lung infection and missed the 26-19 win over France, then put paid to English hopes with another well-taken try, his 18th in just 19 Tests.
“I knew I was going to train my ass off to get back into the team,” man-of-the-match Savea said. “I was glad that I got the opportunity.”
Asked how he got back to match-fitness, the 23-year-old added: “Taking care of my asthma, that’s probably the biggest one because the cold air doesn’t really help. For me, it’s quite common, I’ve had a lot of that. It wasn’t the worst I’ve had.”
Savea, who didn’t make his Test debut until last year, replaced 2011 World Cup-winner Cory Jane and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said: “His response comes from the competition from his team-mates. While he was sick, others were playing well and he’s had a wee reminder that you can’t take it for granted.”
Meanwhile flanker McCaw was delighted by the composure New Zealand, for whom the 2012 Twickenham reverse represents their lone defeat in 34 Tests, showed in regaining the initiative.
“There’s no point worrying about blowing the lead, you have to stick to your guns. We realised it was going to be a battle — and it was.”
One area where New Zealand, whose backs were that much sharper than England’s in the hosts’ final international of the November campaign, found themselves struggling was at the breakdown.
“The breakdown is totally different up here,” said Hansen, a former Wales coach. “There was ball we thought we should have won and those penalties kept England in the game.
“But we have to get better at this,” added Hansen ahead of the 2015 World Cup in England.
Saturday saw Dan Carter become just the fifth All Black to make 100 Test appearances but the injury prone fly-half lasted a mere 26 minutes before limping off with an Achilles problem.
“It’s disappointing for him again, he’d had a wretched time but he made a major contribution when he was on,” said Hansen.