Rugby Championship of 2017 will be exciting read all about it

THE Rugby Championship of 2017 promises to be one of the more intriguing showdowns between the four SANZAAR countries for many a year given that three of the countries are in a state of flux while perennial champions New Zealanders have had their invincibility questioned earlier this year by the British and Irish Lions.

The one thing that we have learned over the years of Tri-Nations and the Rugby Championship is that Super Rugby form is not always a guarantor of how a country will perform, although it can often be a pointer. Regional teams can battle in Super Rugby only for a national composite team to come good under a national coach.

This year’s Championship is shaping up to be a cracker and could be one of the closer events for some time.

New Zealand

The back-to back World Cup holders had won 47 consecutive matches on home soil before the British and Irish Lions beat them in the second Test of their June series and then the tourists had the effrontery to draw the “decider” at hallowed Eden Park. Unquestionably the drawn series was interpreted by New Zealanders as a “loss” and a “victory” by the Lions.

Inevitably, the Kiwis will take that series result as a clarion call to raise their game to a higher level, to banish any possible vestiges of complacency and re-impose themselves on world rugby.

How dare the Lions question their supremacy …?

Unfortunately for South Africa, Australia and Argentina, a visibly shaken All Blacks side is going to going to rebound with a vengeance and with respect to the other three countries, this Championship could end up being about who comes second to New Zealand, unless the Boks, Wallabies and Pumas can raise their games to new levels having seen that the All Blacks can be beaten.

Player to watch

Sonny Bill Williams

The heavyweight boxer, former Rugby League star and All Blacks centre is one of sport’s larger-than-life figures. His sending off in the second Test against the Lions was regarded as game-changing and the Master of the Offload is going to be in hungry mood to redress the damage he will feel he inflicted on his country by his moment of shoulder-charging madness.

South Africa

Questions have been asked about the strength of the French team that toured in June, especially in the first Test when they were short of a number of first-choice players, but the Springboks played even better in the second and third Tests and there can be no denying that a clean sweep of France signals that the Boks have turned the corner after the horrors of 2016.

Coach Allister Coetzee has learned the hard way and this year the spine of the Bok team from the very first Test was comprised of in-form Lions players from South Africa’s in-form Super Rugby team.

The Boks this year are playing with a distinctive game plan (after the muddled performances of 2016), they have confidence, smiles on their faces and they have momentum.

They also have a more experienced and composed backroom staff, notably including Brendan Venter (defence) and Rassie Erasmus (Director of Rugby).

Key Player

Jan Serfontein

The 2012 World Junior Player of the Year has yet to reach his potential but in June against France there were signs that he is not far off. In 2016 he was sidelined by a wrist injury and probably only got his chance against France because of injuries to in-form 12s such as Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but boy did he grab the opportunity to show what he can do to defences.

Argentina

The Jaguares were much improved in their second season of Super Rugby which is a good sign for the Pumas, who are pretty much the Jaguares in sky blue and white disguise. But this is also slightly misleading because there is no doubt that Agustin Creevy’s men grow an inch or two when they pull on their national colours and national coach Danial Hourcade seems to be able to get more out of his players on the international stage than his counterpart at Super Rugby level. The Latin temperament and the deeply rooted patriotism of the Argentineans contributes significantly to this.

The Pumas came fourth in the 2015 Rugby World Cup playing a new style of attacking rugby (encouraged by consultant former All Blacks coach Graham Henry) and they continue to grow in a style of rugby that suits their disposition. They will continue to play positive rugby and will target the Springboks in Salta, where they have had success against the Boks, and the Wallabies in Mendoza.

Key Player

Martin Landajo

The 29-year-old scrumhalf has proved a worthy heir to the legendary Puma Agustin Pichot and is a 70-cap veteran for his country. He is the catalyst for the attacking rugby the Pumas are intent on playing. He is exceptional at reading the game and probing defences to target where best to attack.

Australia

Rugby sentiment is at an all-time low in Australia after their Super Rugby sides were swept aside, notably by the Kiwi teams that won every single game against Australian teams.

In June, the Wallabies struggled against touring Scotland and lost one of the Tests to the tourists. There is unhappiness in Australia over the axing of the Western Force and even talk of players striking as a result. The heartening news for Wallabies fans is that coach Michael Cheika is a supreme motivator and he will believe that he only needs the best 15 players, plus substitutes, from the ravaged Super Rugby franchises to build a strong national side. In 1998, South Africa had one of their worst ever Super 12 years but Nick Mallett built a Bok team that won the Tri-Nations.

Cheika, a fierce competitor, will have had the Wallabies for a month before their first game, against the All Blacks in Sydney, and he will whipping his underdogs into a frenzy.

Key Player

Michael Hooper

The new Wallabies captain was a often a lone figure in the front line of the desperately disappointing New South Wales side this year. He tackled himself to a standstill and won many a turnover. The Waratahs just did not have the quality of player or the belief in their coaching staff to raise their game as a unit. Hooper is the kind of lead-from-the-front player that will get more out of better company.

PREDICTION

1. New Zealand

2. South Africa

3. Australia

4. Argentina

FIXTURES

August 19: Australia v New Zealand, Sydney; South Africa v Argentina, Port Elizabeth

August 26: New Zealand v Australia, Dunedin; Argentina v South Africa, Salta

September 9: New Zealand v Argentina, New Plymouth; Australia v South Africa, Perth

September 16: New Zealand v South Africa, Albany; Australia v Argentina, Canberra

September 30: Argentina v New Zealand, Buenos Aries; South Africa v Australia, Bloemfontein

October 7: Argentina v Australia, Mendoza; South Africa v New Zealand, Cape Town

by Mike Greenaway

Mark Reason: Third test thriller between All Blacks and Lions a game played in heaven

Both teams peered into the void as the ferocity of the final test match between the All Blacks and the Lions shook the ground and our hearts. And yet still there were moments of skill to dazzle this dark corner of New Zealand.

Dark, because of all the black shirts in the stand. Dark, because of the fears that so many fans carried into this match. And so often games like this just cannot live up to the absurdity of the expectation. But this match – a 15-15 draw that saw the series shared 1-1 – will stand as one of the great tests in the history of the Lions in New Zealand.

NIGEL MARPLE/REUTERS
Maro Itoje was again outstanding in a brutal and brilliant test match.

Of course there were bundles of mistakes. It is almost impossible not to throw the odd bad pass when Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje is intent on crushing your skeleton until it squeaks. Both locks were colossal for their respective sides and are going to have many a great battle down the years.

And to begin with the intensity of the collisions was all too much and the jitters jumped between the stands and the pitch. Beauden Barrett hooked his first kick at goal horribly and the bank of red behind the posts stood and cheered. Julian Savea dropped a pass that he could have caught as a 3-year-old.

Were they bothered? Well, probably, but they just got on with it and then played some footy from another world. Savea ran over the top of Liam Williams, and your mind went back to Jonah Lomu putting Mike Catt through the tumble dryer all those years ago in a World Cup semi in South Africa.

Beauden Barrett crucially intercepted Owen Farrell when the Lions were pressing for the early score. Farrell has not enhanced his reputation and his passing off his left hand was dreadful. He cost the Lions two possible tries with bad passes to his left. Big players play the big moments.

But the nerves just added to the thrill of it all. The All Blacks could have put the game away in the first half when their scrum monstered the Lions off the ball. Number eight pick up, five metres to go, accuracy was all that was needed. But Aaron Smith’s pass did not understand the line that Beauden Barrett was taking and the chance was fumbled.

At the start of the second half the All Blacks again caught a wind shift and had a chance to sail away. It was a joy to see them finally play some rugby and they had a lot of success with changes of direction and deeper runners. They also held the Lions defence with some early cross kicks.

So when Jordie Barrett spun towards the outside he had Savea in the clear and the series in his hands. But the Lions just squeezed him too hard and the 20-year-old could not keep his pass from going forwards. Sit down, everyone, it’s not a try but there’s so much more to come.

More to come from this game and more to come from young Jordie. In the first half he finished one try on the outside when Ngani Laumape made a half break and Anton Lienert-Brown showed the Lions how to pass. And he set up another when he used his height to tap down for Laumape to score.

New Zealand had their moments, and so many of them were beautiful, but the All Blacks can also been an ugly team at times when threatened. We saw that last week with SBW and we saw it again when Jerome Kaino hit Alun Wyn Davies in the jaw with a straight arm. The people in front of me spat out juices of abuse, but the officials were entirely correct to issue a yellow card.

And so the Lions came back into the game and there were so many impossible outcomes to decide. The man of the series? For me a dead heat between Conor Murray and Brodie Retallick. The next All Blacks coach? Warren Gatland won’t get the job, but he can be proud of how his teams have played on this tour.

But those things are for another day perhaps. This was a night when sport put a magnifying glass on the human spirit and showed just how magnificent it can be.

– Stuff

All Blacks and Lions end third test – and 2017 series – in a draw

We came to celebrate, but it ended in stalemate. Would you believe it? In the most controversial of circumstances, the All Blacks and British and Irish Lions could not be separated in a dramatic final, deciding test at Eden Park.

At the end of a pulsating encounter referee Romain Poite had the major say we all feared he might, but not in the manner we suspected.

After reviewing a decision to award a late, kickable penalty to the All Blacks with less than two minutes on the clock, he downgraded it to just a scrum for accidental offside, and the Lions were able to escape with a 15-15 draw that left this brilliant series, for the first time in history, tied.

On a night when these two fine sides could not be separated, the series also ends that way. In many ways, given the epic nature of the final encounter, it is a result that cannot be disputed.

Yet it will be. How could Poite change his decision when the video replay clearly showed replacement hooker Ken Owens had been in front of Liam Williams when he spilled the ball forward from the kickoff? But he did.

It was as if he decided he did not want this match to end on that note, after Lions superboot Owen Farrell had drilled his second 48-metre penalty to level the scores at 15-15 just moments earlier.

The All Blacks had a sniff in the final seconds, and rookie sensation Jordie Barrett went close in the right corner, but the Lions somehow held on.

What a third, and final, deciding test we had at this fortress of a ground for the All Blacks where they still haven’t lost since 1994 (though that 38-test win streak is now over). It was epic. It was tense. It was all things that rugby at this level should be. The sellout crowd of just shy of 50,000, forming a sea of red and black, were split seemingly equally in their vociferous support.

The Lions did not shrink beneath the glare of the big moment either. They could not manage a try. But they kicked their goals (five from five) and were good enough to deny the All Blacks the victory they worked so hard for.

So, Kieran Read’s 100th test ends not in the victory he deserved. Nor the 50th, and last, for Charlie Faumuina and Aaron Cruden.

And surprise starters Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are denied the result their outstanding performances probably deserved.

The first 40 was all about tempo for the All Blacks, who did everything they could at pace, and with withering intent. Frustrated at their lack of ambition last week in Wellington, they weren’t going to die wondering in this deciding matchup.

So they went quickly at lineout time, from the ruck, and on any other occasion they could, and had the Lions in back-pedal mode through much of the opening half. The visitors had a couple of sniffs, but it was the New Zealanders who created the, er, lion’s share of the chances, and took a deserved 12-6 lead into the sheds with the only two tries of the half.

They were both sublime examples of how good these All Blacks are when they are able to play their game of pace, skill and withering execution.

That they both went to rookie starting debutants whom Hansen had taken (supposedly) such a risk in selecting really said it all about both the coach’s smarts and the natural ability he has at his disposal.

In fact, you couldn’t keep second five-eighths Laumape and fullback Jordie Barrett out of this test. They might not be rich in experience, but they are in talent and self-belief. Just a couple of minutes after a Beauden Barrett intercept just failed to put Laumape clear away, the Barrett-Laumape combination struck with magical efficacy. Under advantage, Beauden Barrett’s crosskick looked just a little over-cooked, but his 20-year-old brother soared high to tap the ball infield to Laumape who was across for the opening try, and a 7-0 lead.

Then four minutes from the break, with the Lions having eked the deficit back to just a point, the New Zealanders struck again with another sublimely executed attack. Brodie Retallick started it with the charge from the middle of the lineout, then Laumape rolled out a fabulous offload in the tackle to Anton Lienert-Brown whose pinpoint wide pass gave Jordie Barrett all the space he needed for the easiest of five-pointers.

The All Blacks could have had more, but crucial handling lapses at key moments denied them the chance to build a buffer.

But the Lions weren’t going anywhere after halftime. First Elliot Daly banged over a 54-metre penalty, then they went a man up for 10 minutes when Jerome Kaino was yellow carded for a forearm to the head of Alun Wyn Jones on the carry.

To the All Blacks’ credit they have some form playing with 14, and leaked only a 48m penalty to Own Farrell to level the scores at 12-12, which was right when Kaino returned to restore parity.

From there it was a tightrope walk to the finish. A penalty more apiece, and the night ended with neither team able to truly celebrate. But perhaps it was a night when rugby should, for two fine teams had played themselves into the ground, and simply could not be separated.

All Blacks 15 (Ngani Laumape, Jordie Barrett tries; Beauden Barrett pen, con), British & Irish Lions 15 (Owen Farrell 4 pens; Elliot Daly pen). Ht: 12-6.

– Stuff

The All Blacks team to play the second Test against the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday 1 July is

The match day 23 for the DHL New Zealand Lions Series Test is (with Test caps in brackets):

1. Joe Moody (26)
2. Codie Taylor (17)
3. Owen Franks (92)
4. Brodie Retallick (62)
5. Samuel Whitelock (86)
6. Jerome Kaino (79)
7. Sam Cane (42)
8. Kieran Read (98) – Captain
9. Aaron Smith (60)
10. Beauden Barrett (51)
11. Rieko Ioane (3)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (35)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (11)
14. Waisake Naholo (12)
15. Israel Dagg (63)

16. Nathan Harris (6)
17. Wyatt Crockett (60)
18. Charlie Faumuina (48)
19. Scott Barrett (6)
20. Ardie Savea (14)
21. TJ Perenara (31)
22. Aaron Cruden (48)
23. Ngani Laumape *

The match day squad sees two expected changes through injury. Winger Waisake Naholo has been named on the right wing with Israel Dagg moving to fullback. Anton Lienert-Brown comes in at centre with new All Black Ngani Laumape being rewarded for his standout performance for the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, coming into the match day 23.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Whilst it’s disappointing to lose both Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty, it creates an opportunity for others. ‘Izzy’ (Israel Dagg) is a world-class back three player, as is Anton in the midfield, and both Waisake and Ngani are coming into the Test side following outstanding performances against the Lions for their respective Super franchises.

“Whilst we were happy with the win last weekend, we know that it was just a start, in what is a three-test Series. That means the job is far from done. It’s going to require us to take our game to a higher level. It’s going to be very demanding, physically and mentally, on both sides.

“We’re aware the British and Irish Lions have their backs to the wall and will chuck everything at us to keep themselves alive in the Series. They are a quality side who we respect immensely.

“In reality, last week’s Test could’ve gone either way had they taken more of their chances. Our job will be to make sure that we shut down their counter-attack better than we did last weekend and at the same time, win the critical moments across the 80 minutes. As always, it’ll start with the battle of the tight five.

“We’ve worked hard throughout the week in our preparation here in Wellington and are now looking forward to Saturday.”

– Ngani Laumape

Born on 22 April 1993 in Palmerston North, 24-year-old Ngani Laumape attended Palmerston North Boys’ High School. He toured the UK and Thailand with the school’s First XV and was selected to play second-five for the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2011.

Despite his success, he made the decision to sign with the Warriors rugby league team when he left school and by 2014 he was an established starter in the squad.

The following year he investigated a return to rugby and made his Investec Super Rugby debut for the Hurricanes in the opening match of the 2016 season.

He went on to make 11 appearances, including seven starts, to help the Hurricanes win the club’s inaugural Super Rugby title.

His strong performances in 2017 saw him lead the competition early for line breaks and defenders beaten and he’s currently joint leader on the competition try scoring table with 14 tries.

Interesting Facts

• The DHL New Zealand Lions Series is the 12th tour to New Zealand by the Lions. The first game was in 1904. The teams have played 39 Test matches. The All Blacks have won 30 of those matches.
• Loose forward Jerome Kaino will play his 80th Test match on Saturday.

The All Blacks team to play the second Test against the British & Irish Lions at Westpac Stadium, Wellington, on Saturday 1 July is

The match day 23 for the DHL New Zealand Lions Series Test is (with Test caps in brackets):

1. Joe Moody (26)
2. Codie Taylor (17)
3. Owen Franks (92)
4. Brodie Retallick (62)
5. Samuel Whitelock (86)
6. Jerome Kaino (79)
7. Sam Cane (42)
8. Kieran Read (98) – Captain
9. Aaron Smith (60)
10. Beauden Barrett (51)
11. Rieko Ioane (3)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (35)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (11)
14. Waisake Naholo (12)
15. Israel Dagg (63)

16. Nathan Harris (6)
17. Wyatt Crockett (60)
18. Charlie Faumuina (48)
19. Scott Barrett (6)
20. Ardie Savea (14)
21. TJ Perenara (31)
22. Aaron Cruden (48)
23. Ngani Laumape *

The match day squad sees two expected changes through injury. Winger Waisake Naholo has been named on the right wing with Israel Dagg moving to fullback. Anton Lienert-Brown comes in at centre with new All Black Ngani Laumape being rewarded for his standout performance for the Hurricanes on Tuesday night, coming into the match day 23.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “Whilst it’s disappointing to lose both Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty, it creates an opportunity for others. ‘Izzy’ (Israel Dagg) is a world-class back three player, as is Anton in the midfield, and both Waisake and Ngani are coming into the Test side following outstanding performances against the Lions for their respective Super franchises.

“Whilst we were happy with the win last weekend, we know that it was just a start, in what is a three-test Series. That means the job is far from done. It’s going to require us to take our game to a higher level. It’s going to be very demanding, physically and mentally, on both sides.

“We’re aware the British and Irish Lions have their backs to the wall and will chuck everything at us to keep themselves alive in the Series. They are a quality side who we respect immensely.

“In reality, last week’s Test could’ve gone either way had they taken more of their chances. Our job will be to make sure that we shut down their counter-attack better than we did last weekend and at the same time, win the critical moments across the 80 minutes. As always, it’ll start with the battle of the tight five.

“We’ve worked hard throughout the week in our preparation here in Wellington and are now looking forward to Saturday.”

– Ngani Laumape

Born on 22 April 1993 in Palmerston North, 24-year-old Ngani Laumape attended Palmerston North Boys’ High School. He toured the UK and Thailand with the school’s First XV and was selected to play second-five for the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2011.

Despite his success, he made the decision to sign with the Warriors rugby league team when he left school and by 2014 he was an established starter in the squad.

The following year he investigated a return to rugby and made his Investec Super Rugby debut for the Hurricanes in the opening match of the 2016 season.

He went on to make 11 appearances, including seven starts, to help the Hurricanes win the club’s inaugural Super Rugby title.

His strong performances in 2017 saw him lead the competition early for line breaks and defenders beaten and he’s currently joint leader on the competition try scoring table with 14 tries.

Interesting Facts

• The DHL New Zealand Lions Series is the 12th tour to New Zealand by the Lions. The first game was in 1904. The teams have played 39 Test matches. The All Blacks have won 30 of those matches.
• Loose forward Jerome Kaino will play his 80th Test match on Saturday.

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga ahead of 1st test on Saturday

The match day 23 for the first Test of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series is listed below (with Test caps in brackets):

This is the poster from 2005 signed by Tana Umaga (my daughter was 5 ) at the time..Casey is now 17 and will be watching on Sat ..helps put the series into perspective the significance that some great players never get to play the Lions -Special thanks to Mike Greenaway for getting pic signed

1. Joe Moody (25)
2. Codie Taylor (16)
3. Owen Franks (91)
4. Brodie Retallick (61)
5. Samuel Whitelock (85)
6. Jerome Kaino (78)
7. Sam Cane (41)
8. Kieran Read (97) – Captain
9. Aaron Smith (59)
10. Beauden Barrett (50)
11. Rieko Ioane (2)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (34)
13. Ryan Crotty (26)
14. Israel Dagg (62)
15. Ben Smith (61)

16. Nathan Harris (5)
17. Wyatt Crockett (59)
18. Charlie Faumuina (47)
19. Scott Barrett (5)
20. Ardie Savea (13)
21. TJ Perenara (30)
22. Aaron Cruden (47)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (10)

The matchday 23 sees the return of captain Kieran Read with Ardie Savea moving to the bench.

Rieko Ioane has been named on the left wing replacing Julian Savea in what will be Ioane’s first start in his third Test.

It will also be Ioane’s third time facing the Lions in this year’s DHL New Zealand Lions Series. Ryan Crotty returns from injury and has been named at centre, with Anton Lienert-Brown moving to the bench.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test.

Hansen added it was great to have Read and Crotty back.

“They’ve both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they’re really excited at what’s ahead of us.

“I’d also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing.”

Hansen said there was a massive amount of excitement within the team.

“There’s a real understanding that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The players are well aware of the history of the All Blacks and the Lions and are determined to respect that history with their performances.

“We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team; probably one of the best to have toured here. It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of. We know the importance of this match and we will bring real energy and intensity. It’ll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.

“There will be a unique and electric atmosphere at Eden Park on Saturday night. It’s something we’re really looking forward to and we can’t wait.”

Interesting Facts
* The DHL New Zealand Lions Series is the 12th tour to New Zealand by the Lions. The first game was in 1904. The teams have played 38 Test matches.

The All Blacks have won 29 of those matches.

* The most recent Lions Test was at Eden Park on July 9th 2005 where the All Blacks won 38-15.

* The All Blacks last weekend became the first team to reach 15,000 Test points in the team’s 553rd Test. (15,002). France is second on 13,450 points.

* Beauden Barrett has now scored 321 points in Test matches and is fifth on the all-time All Blacks list. Aaron Cruden is fourth on 322 points. The top three are pretty well-known names: Carter, Mehrtens and Fox.

* Owen Franks will become the ninth most capped All Blacks in his 92nd Test on Saturday, equal to All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick.

Brodie Retallick says the All Blacks will be ready for what’s coming in the opening test against the Lions.

Forewarned is forearmed, reckon the All Blacks when it comes to that withering defensive line-speed of Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions. As Steve Hansen would say, they might just have more up their sleeves than their arms.

They know it’s coming all right in Saturday’s opening test of the series at Eden Park, and they have seen first-hand the way it can squeeze the life out of such quality opponents as the Crusaders and New Zealand Maori who have both been ground into the turf by Gatland’s full-strength, fast-off-the-mark weekend lineup.

Gatland’s shadow test squad has conceded just one try in 160 minutes of rugby on this tour, and pummelled both the Crusaders (12-3) and Maori (32-10) in the process. They may be struggling to find their attacking flow, but you simply cannot fault the manner in which they have defended through two impressive victories.

Clips from those two games will have been loaded en masse on to the All Blacks’ devices and will be compulsory viewing all week as they build up for the always pivotal opening encounter of this delicious three-test series that only rolls round every dozen years.

The brains trust of Hansen, Ian Foster and Wayne Smith will also be game-planning like mad, and the players expect to see so much of the defensive tactic on the training field all week, that by the time the test rolls round, receiving ball and defender all but simultaneously will be second nature.

That all said, two of the All Blacks’ big boppers admitted it’s a tactic the Lions use extremely well and is just different enough to anything else out there to be a shock to the system of the ill or under-prepared.

“They brought a real intensity, and we saw probably how they will play,” said Brodie Retallick of the Maori game. “It’s all about us this week and what we’re going to do to overcome their line-speed and attack.”

But the 26-year-old rated by many as the world’s best lock conceded there was enough newness to the Lions’ methods to warrant respect. “We don’t see it as intense as the Lions do it,” he said of a ‘D’ line with an Olympic sprinter’s speed out of the blocks.

“Some New Zealand Super Rugby sides are using it, and the Hurricanes do it really well. But it’s not something you face week in, week out. You’ll play Australian or South African team and if numbers are down they’ll hold and push instead of just flying up like the Lions do.

“I guess it’s a wee bit of perceived pressure because you’ve got someone coming fast at you. We will train that this week and get used to it, but it is slightly different to what we’re used to.”

That said, Retallick wasn’t exactly wiping beads of sweat off his brow when the subject came up at Monday’s media conference, on the back of a morning gym session and busy day of meetings to set the agenda for the week.

“We know it’s going to come, so acknowledging it’s going to happen is a starting point. And we’ve got certain skills or aspects we want to adapt to beat it. We’ll train it this week and put a plan in place where hopefully we can get outside it or in behind it.”

Veteran loose forward Jerome Kaino, who confirmed his readiness with a solid 57 minutes in Friday’s romp over Samoa, said it was a part of the Lions’ game that had to be prepared for.

“Whatever any team does, there’s always an opportunity [to find space elsewhere], but also it’s how you deal with their pressure,” said the 78-test No 6. “From what we’ve seen it’s been a strength of theirs and puts teams under a lot of pressure and makes them do things they don’t usually do.

“We’ll address that this week and train areas where we can attack it. But it’s awesome how they defend. The Lions just don’t miss their tackles when they get up there.”

The other perceived strength of the visitors is in that pack which is expected to be retained en masse from the Maori game. The All Blacks understand that if they can match, or even shade, them in the arm-wrestle, they’ll be a long way down the track to a 1-0 series lead.

“You always want to measure yourself against the best, and the way northern hemisphere teams have been playing the last couple of years in the forwards, they’ve set the standards. I want to measure myself against those guys,” said Kaino, a likely starter in the loose trio alongside skipper Kieran Read and openside Sam Cane.

Added Retallick: “We’ve got huge respect for what the Lions are and what they’re bringing. Their set piece is a real asset – their scrum and lineout maul. It’s going to be a battle there. They’ve got some big, ball-carrying loose forwards and we’re going to have to get in front of them and make tackles.”

Forewarned, forearmed and certainly fervent, this is a test that can’t come soon enough for these All Blacks.

source : Stuff

%d bloggers like this: