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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 November, 2003, 09:51 GMT
Mitchell praises All Blacks pack
All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu

New Zealand coach John Mitchell gave the credit for his side's 29-9 quarter-final win over South Africa to the might of the forward pack in Melbourne.

The All Blacks outscored the Springboks three tries to nil, through centre Leon MacDonald, hooker Keven Mealamu and wing Joe Rokocoko.

But instead of their rapier-like backs making up for a powderpuff pack, it was the forwards who created the victory with an impressive display at the breakdown, in the loose and in the set-pieces.

"Many people underestimate the ability of our forward pack and they often don't get the rewards they are due," said Mitchell.

"I thought they were outstanding tonight. It was always going to be a grind for a long time. We knew we were going to be in a contest."
It was awesome the way that guys like Jerry [Collins] and Keven [Mealamu] made yards all day
All Blacks centre Leon MacDonald

Mitchell selected fit-again number eight Jerry Collins and try-scoring hooker Keven Mealamu for particular praise.

"Keven has special qualities as a hooker, qualities I don't think any other hooker in the world has," Mitchell said.

"At the moment he's an outstanding all-round footballer."

And he added: "The mental strength he [Collins] has shown through the week, to get over an injury, has been outstanding.

"Knowing him he had a motto of not wanting to let down his team-mates. He showed how much it means to him to be part of this team and to be an All Black."

New Zealand captain Reuben Thorne was equally delighted with his team's all-round performance.

"It was a huge game," said Thorne. "I am very proud of them.

We probably didn't finish a lot of opportunities and some of our skills let us down at vital moments
All Blacks coach John Mitchell

"We knew we had to lift our game and I was very pleased with the way the guys lifted their game tonight."

Fly-half Carlos Spencer was in typically impish form for the All Blacks, creating two of the three tries with individual brilliance.

Centre MacDonald said: "It was awesome the way that guys like Jerry and Keven made yards all day.

"It really gave Carlos a platform to move onto the ball and get it wide. The forwards will tell you that it's nice to look up from a ruck and see the backs scoring tries."

But despite the ease of victory, Mitchell insisted that his players still performed below their best.

"We probably didn't finish a lot of opportunities and some of our skills let us down at vital moments," said Mitchell.

"We were probably a little selfish at times. It was certainly a step up from the pool games.

"We can learn a lot from tonight's performance."



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