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More to come from NZ - Muliaina

By Bryn Palmer

Mils Muliaina powers through two England tacklers at Twickenham
Muliaina scored the 23rd and 24th tries of his All Blacks career at Twickenham

Full-back Mils Muliaina believes the current All Blacks are the mentally toughest team he has played in but that they have yet to hit their peak.

Muliaina scored two tries in the 32-6 win over England to seal New Zealand's eighth straight Test victory since losing 34-19 to Australia in July.

"Mentally this is the hardest team I've been involved with," he said.

"A lot of guys are really talented and we've started to nail it collectively. But we can still make some strides."

Victory at Twickenham completed a second 'grand slam' over the home nations in three years, Muliaina one of 17 players in the All Blacks squad that also featured in the 2005 clean sweep.

The full-back believes this year's achievement was "tougher" given the exodus of a dozen frontline players after last year's World Cup.

We have been a little too emotional the way we have started games

Mils Muliaina
"You have to say the young guys this year have been remarkable - they have stepped into some really big shoes," Muliaina said.

"To rebuild as quickly as we have after losing a lot of players last year says a lot for our coaching staff.

"It is just a shame we are doing it between World Cups. But I think there is still a little bit more in the tank.

"We have been really disappointed with the way we have started games, for example. We can be a bit more clinical.

"We have been a little too emotional the way we have started games, we need to be a bit cleverer upstairs."

Muliaina was entitled to feel emotional after his man-of-the-match performance, which also included a vital last-ditch tap tackle on Nick Easter that prevented England scoring at the start of the second half.

Muliaina joined the tour late because his first child Max was born just a week before the All Blacks faced Australia in Hong Kong.

His new-born son was then found to have a hole in his heart and will undergo an operation next week.

"It has been really hard being over here, and it probably took its toll at the end of last week," Muliaina added. "The boys and the coaches have been really supportive.

"I couldn't let them down so I 'gutsed' it out. But now I am just looking forward to going home and seeing my wife and son."

While New Zealand failed to find their rhythm in a stop-start first half punctured by penalties, Muliaina's two tries in seven minutes - the 23rd and 24th of his 68-Test career - were part of a 20-point blitz from the end of the third quarter that killed the game.

The third try was superbly finished off by rampaging centre Ma'a Nonu, who has evolved from something of a liability early in his Test career into a player of genuine class and authority.

I think Dan (Carter) will end up a more mature rugby player for his French experience

Graham Henry
"We have a bright group that is working hard at understanding the game and communicating what they see," said assistant coach Wayne Smith.

"Ma'a epitomizes that. He is a play-caller now. Daniel (Carter) would say he is right up there as a second five-eighth (inside centre) who can call the plays, and he has scored seven tries this year as well."

Carter, meanwhile, heads to Perpignan next week for a six-month sabbatical, and may miss the All Blacks' next Tests, at home to Italy and France, next June.

But he should be available for the start of New Zealand's defence of the Tri-Nations in July, when Henry expects to have a "more mature" player on his hands.

"I think it will be stimulating for him," Henry added. "I think he'll grow from that challenge.

"When you go and play in a different country it's a personal challenge rather than a rugby challenge.

"I'm sure he'll handle that and I think he'll end up a more mature rugby player for the experience."

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see also
Carter praises All Blacks 'slam'
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Henry delighted with Kiwi victory
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Undisciplined England pay the penalty
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England 6-32 New Zealand
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Johnson rues England indiscipline
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Autumn Test photos
29 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union

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