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We're Not Happy Says Glum Cowan

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Fuseworks Media

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

London, Nov 22 NZPA - Coach Graham Henry described it as the best performance of the All Blacks rugby tour, but halfback Jimmy Cowan said the dressing room mood was decidedly flat.

As the All Blacks posed with the Hillary Shield and soaked sore muscles in Twickenham's baths after their bruising 19-6 win over England, there was little hilarity.

The All Blacks were always expected to score an eighth consecutive win against a limited England, who were much-improved from the side who were booed off the field against Argentina.

But, for a third week in Europe, the All Blacks scored a solitary try and were kicking themselves for not twisting the knife after they took control early in the second half.

"It's not a happy changing room at the moment. We feel we can play a lot better," Cowan said.

"I tend to be saying the same thing week in, week out. We're close but not quite reaching it. In patches we played well, we were trying to spread the ball but the conditions didn't help and the way they played the game didn't help our cause."

Cowan had a difficult time clearing the ball to his backs, and took aim at England for their spoiling efforts at the breakdown which saw a flurry of penalties from South African referee Jonathan Kaplan.

"The weather didn't help our cause today, and England didn't help our cause either by killing a lot of our ball at ruck time and just lying over it, so we couldn't get that flow in our game.

"Then again we look at ourselves and we were a bit slow on the reload, we were creating a bit, but we just couldn't finish off that final pass."

Cowan scored the only try of the match, a decisive moment in the 57th minute when the impressive Sitiveni Sivivatu burst up the blindside and fed man-of-the-match Richie McCaw who slipped the final in-pass.

It began from some welcome pick-and-drive from the All Blacks forwards after the lateral approach hadn't worked in the first half which ended 6-6.

Dan Carter's sideline conversion and his fourth penalty with 13 minutes left had the All Blacks poised for a strong finish but they ended the test defending desperately.

Carter -- who broke Andrew Mehrtens' New Zealand test record of 967 points but made some uncharacteristic errors -- hauled down a try-bound England reserve Tom Croft and the McCaw-led defensive line held firm.

That made it seven consecutive northern hemisphere tests for the All Blacks without conceding a try.

Said Cowan: "The defence has been great. It comes down to a mental attitude. We're all playing for one another and you can see that on defence, we're all looking after each other's shoulders."

The All Blacks' back three were excellent on counter-attack with Mils Muliaina, Zac Guildford and Sivivatu three of their best as the tourists tried to give the ball air.

Muliaina was denied a first half try by the television match official when his leg slid into touch.

Henry described the performance as their best of the month as they look ahead to the tour `grand final' against France in Marseille.

"You're always disappointed if you don't finish off more chances. But I thought we played some quality rugby and I'm delighted with what the guys have done."

England perhaps edged the scrum battle, with recalled lock Simon Shaw and flanker Lewis Moody standout figures in the pack, but McCaw was king of the breakdown.

Home coach Martin Johnson was impressed with his side's improvement in their final test of the year, after a week of heavy criticism by the British press.

He said their failure to convert opportunities in the All Blacks' 22m was crucial, as was the tourists' edge at the breakdown.

"It's the biggest area of the game and they're the best at it. That was ultimately the difference between the two teams," he said.

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