All Blacks target perfect season
Skipper Richie McCaw says New Zealand are wary of next opponents Ireland as they seek to complete the year with 14 wins from 14 matches
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw refused to get carried away with the world champions just one game away from a perfect year with a 30-22 win over England at Twickenham.
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 this weekend, can stop them from retaining their 100 per cent record.
No international team in the professional era have enjoyed a perfect calendar year, with the New Zealand side led by Wayne Shelford, who won all seven of their tests in 1989, the last major nation to achieve the feat when rugby union was still an amateur sport.
In 1997, New Zealand came close to perfection again when they won 11 games and drew one under John Hart. But they will be overwhelming favourites to make it a perfect 14 out of 14 record this year after Ireland's 32-15 loss to Australia at Dublin's Lansdowne Road
But McCaw 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 Savea - who has asthma, spent the previous week 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 19 tests.
"I was going to train my ass off to get back into the team," man-of-the-match Savea said. "I was glad I got the opportunity."
Asked how he got back to match fitness, the 23-year-old said: "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 did not 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 teammates. 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 from England.
"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.
The Twickenham test also 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.
Hansen said: "It's disappointing for him again. He'd had a wretched time, but he made a major contribution when he was on the field."