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Record-breaker Muliaina Back From Mid-season Nightmare

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Fuseworks Media

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

London, Nov 20 NZPA - Mils Muliaina joins Justin Marshall as the most-capped All Blacks test rugby back on Sunday, but several months ago he could barely care less.

The All Blacks fullback, who notches his 81st test on Sunday (NZT) to sit behind only Sean Fitzpatrick's 92 on the all-time list, revealed the South African tour was one of his lowest ebbs in the black jersey.

Exhausted after a big season leading the Chiefs, and taking on the All Blacks' captaincy in Richie McCaw's absence, Muliaina played the Springboks in Bloemfontein and Durban in July almost pining for home.

"I'd probably had enough of travel. It was a big season for the Chiefs and it was something I'd never experienced before," he said.

"Having taken on the captaincy it was a lot of work, that was massive for me and it drained me a little bit. That's something you've got to learn. I hoped it would hang around for a while and go away but it didn't."

So when Muliaina returned from South Africa to his partner Hayley and young son Max, he realised he needed a respite or he wouldn't make it to the 2011 World Cup.

His form was patchy, which he confessed himself as the All Blacks prepared to face the Wallabies in Sydney, and a refocus was required. That came during a much-needed break during the Air NZ Cup, then an agreement with his employers the New Zealand Rugby Union that he'd miss the first three Super 14 matches of 2010 to give him most of December-January off.

"This year I've felt really good, probably the best all-round season I've had right through Super 14.

"The two really disappointing games I had were in South Africa, I wasn't there mentally, I was a little bit stale and looking back there were a few things I could have changed in the way I thought about it.

"Having gone away and thought about where I was at and wanted to do on this tour, I've come back nicely and I'm feeling really excited about it again."

Muliaina's greatest inspiration came from McCaw, who somehow handles all the pressure of the captaincy and produces consistently outstanding performances in black.

McCaw sits just two tests adrift of Muliaina's tally and continues to amaze his fullback.

"He's right up there, next to Tana (Umaga) he'd be the best captain I've been under. He takes a lot of things on his shoulders on and off the field and performs week in, week out.

"He's the best player in the world, with DC (Dan Carter). To do that is something immense."

A refreshed Muliaina now hopes his backline can finally click on tour after some frustrating recent tests where they scored just a try apiece against Wales and Italy.

His top priority was for he, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Zac Guildford to punish England for poor kicks at Twickenham.

"We've been working on it and we've stepped it up this tour, in terms of moving the ball around a bit more. We've had a lot of kicking to us this year and we want to try and move it away from some of the contact areas.

"With the backs we've got, we've been frustrated with how we've gone this year. The signs are definitely there from the last two test matches, hopefully this weekend we can really nail it."

And drawing level with Marshall's 81 tests? Muliaina admitted the achievement had been trumpeted by team management, with the list of test caps and various records displayed on the wall of the team room at their hotel.

"It is special, I'm very proud to achieve such a milestone. But for me now every test match is special. When you're getting up into the 80s, there might not be too many more left."

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