Cowan backs AB's to improve

by staff

A week spent working on their shortcomings against Fiji will result in a dramatic improvement in the All Blacks' performance against South Africa, according to halfback Jimmy Cowan.

The New Zealanders were guilty of a scratchy display despite scoring eight tries in the 60-14 win over Fiji in Dunedin last Friday night, leaving the coaching staff with plenty to work on ahead of the Tri Nations Test in Wellington on Saturday.

But Cowan is confident another week spent together will help the side iron out their deficiencies and be ready to take on the Springboks, beaten 39-20 by Australia in their series opener.

"It was pleasing to get off on the right foot with a good win," he said.

"To rack up 60 points is pleasing in a Test match, but some of our fundamentals, our foundations, were still lacking in areas. But we've only had three or four training runs together, so that was expected.

"I think it's about building our game and I imagine we'll see a remarkable improvement over this week."

Loose forward Jerome Kaino, himself a second half substitute, said skipper Richie McCaw had identified the need to improve their work at the breakdown and it was an area they would concentrate on ahead of the Springboks' clash.

"Fiji played really well slowing our ball down and we couldn't really get our game going effectively with the slow ball we were getting so that's a huge focus this week to be able to recycle our ball a lot better and hopefully get our game going," Kaino said.

Coach Graham Henry will particularly look at restarts, where the All Blacks on occasions failed to deal with Seremaia Bai's hanging drop kicks and some wonky lineout throws.

They will have been far happier with the effort of wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, whose all-action approach won plaudits from Henry and may see him rewarded with another start against the Springboks.

But with Hosea Gear, Richard Kahui and perhaps Cory Jane back in contention after recovering from injuries, the coaches have a wealth of options to consider.

There were a host of other pleasing displays at Carisbrook's farewell Test, with Colin Slade's first start in the black jersey earning the praise of backs coach Wayne Smith, debutant Jarrad Hoeata getting through a useful 55 minutes, while flanker Adam Thomson had perhaps his best outing for the All Blacks, leading the way with 13 tackles.

The Springboks, however, will head into Saturday's Test licking their wounds and unable to call on some of their big guns to dig them out of trouble.

Already shorn of 21 players left at home to nurse injuries, they lost Johann Muller before the Wallabies clash to a hamstring strain while fellow lock Flip van der Merwe was forced from the field.

Uncapped Sharks lock Gerhard Mostert will join the squad in Sydney before they fly to Wellington on Wednesday.