Another tense win for his All Blacks will be deposited in the players’ bank of self belief, says coach Steve Hansen.
After soaking up 60 minutes of pressure from South Africa, New Zealand powered home to win their Rugby Championship Test 27-20 in Johannesburg on Saturday in a manner typical of their tight finishes of the last 18 months.
Despite their remarkable dominance since the 2011 World Cup, only six of the All Blacks’ last 20 Tests have resulted in wins by 10 points or more.
The late surge at Ellis Park was typical of Hansen’s men, who needed a try from captain Richie McCaw and late penalty from debut five-eighth Lima Sopoaga to overcome the stern Springboks challenge.
“It’s not the first time we’ve won a tight match and this team seems pretty good at it. Every time we’ve done it, they grow an arm and a leg because of it,” Hansen told journalists.
“I don’t think it’s about being relieved, they’ll probably get a lot of confidence out of it.”
Hansen says the All Blacks were well below their best for patches but mental fortitude and resilience made the difference.
It also provided him further intelligence about his players’ ability to handle pressure five weeks out from his World Cup squad announcement.
Just two Tests remain – both against Australia next month – before Hansen unveils his 31 players to defend their world crown.
He has used 38 players in the wins over Samoa, Argentina and South Africa.
Adding to his selection headache was the performance of Sopoaga, who continued his sublime form after starring for Super Rugby champions, the Highlanders.
Sopoaga is battling for a tournament berth with established trio Dan Carter, Beauden Barrett and Colin Slade.
Other fringe contenders to state their case in Johannesburg were wing Charles Piutau and reserve bench trio Malakai Fekitoa, Victor Vito and Codie Taylor.
“It gives us a really clear understanding of who we’re dealing with and what we can do with them under pressure,” Hansen said.
“There’s not too many who haven’t played now and most of them have played pretty well, which is pleasing.”
The only injury concerns ahead of the August 8 Rugby Championship decider against the Wallabies in Sydney surround inside centre Ma’a Nonu and lock Brodie Retallick.
On Thursday Nonu will undergo a scan on the shoulder knock which forced him off in the second half while Retallick is still struggling with pain from the ankle injury sustained in the pre-game warm-up.
Retallick went on to play 80 minutes and Hansen is confident he will be fit for selection.