Friday, June 19, 2009


All Blacks great Sir Brian Lochore gave the current side the jolt they needed when he declared: "You were ready for battle last week but you weren't ready for war."

As usual one of the elder statesmen of the New Zealand game was spot on with his summation of the All Blacks test loss against France in Dunedin and the need to bring their full artillery for the rematch in Wellington on Saturday night.

Lochore, the former All Blacks captain, coach and a fourth selector with the current management until the end of 2007, attended the captain's run at the Cake Tin on a sunny Friday morning in the capital.

It was there that he offered his summation to coach Graham Henry as they watched the All Blacks put the finishing touches to what they hope will prove a better week of preparation.

"I thought that was a pretty good statement from BJ. He said (a lot of) the boys just don't understand what is required until they have experienced that. I will relay that message to the team and hopefully they are ready for war tomorrow night," said Henry, adding that it bore home what he and his new-look team had been reflecting on for the past six days after they were stunned 27-22 for a rare home defeat.

"It's been a big learning curve and if we haven't learnt from last week we are in trouble. Another week together is always very helpful. They have their feet under the table a bit now and they know what test match rugby is all about."

Henry believed most of the adjustments for his new players were mental, but they also needed to be more physical.
"It's a different level of physicality and it takes a wee bit of time for the All Blacks to get into that groove for what is necessary to play at that physicality."

Henry said he sensed a real edge to the team this week.
Skipper Mils Muliaina echoed the thoughts of his coach when he said it was about the players learning from their mistakes.

But perhaps the biggest worry about this second test side is whether the selectors have learnt from their mistakes, particularly in the back row.

There is a better balance to the trio but still a major question mark hangs over No 8. One young man has been axed Liam Messam was publicly executed by the management when they named the side for Wellington and another young man thrown in, with Kieran Read asked to play No 8 when he, like Messam, is a preferred blindside.

France enjoy an area of strength in this position with Louis Picamoles one of their standouts in a stunning Dunedin effort.

The All Blacks will be better for the return of blindside Jerome Kaino who needs to quickly rediscover the enforcer role he performed so well last year.

They should also find things easier at the breakdowns with a specialist openside in Tanerau Latimer, a No 7 who Henry believes "has the skills and pedigree" for this assignment.
And Conrad Smith's presence in the midfield should bring a mix of calmness and explosiveness to a key are of the backline that was largely ineffective last week.

But for all the talk that has gone on in both camps over the past few days there is almost as much uncertainty hanging over this rematch as there was for the first encounter.

But perhaps most of it now lies with the French. That's the way it goes with their unpredictable rugby team. You never know which side will turn up. Will we see genius and flair, a rugged forward effort, or a mistake-riddled side whose confidence can fall away as quickly as it soared last week?

One thing for sure is that the All Blacks team that runs out in Wellington will be much better in some of the key areas where they let themselves down so badly last week urgency, physicality and aggression.

They have trained that way all week. It has been at the very core of their practices. They have beaten themselves up and now they are ready to turn their anger on to the French.
Add that to their simmering skill levels and it should be enough to right the rocky start to their 2009 campaign.

It's a rare All Blacks team that loses consecutive matches, particularly to the same opposition.
And while there remains a vulnerable look to this side in many departments the key area of attitude should be spot-on this time.

The players need to have the words of Lochore echoing through their heads in the countdown to kickoff.

NEW ZEALAND: 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 John Afoa, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Luke McAlister, 22 Isaia Toeava

FRANCE: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Cedric Heymans, 13 Maxime Mermoz, 12 Vincent Clerc, 11 Damien Traille, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Romain Millo-Chluski, 4 Sebastien Chabal, 3 Nicholas Mas, 2 William Servat, 1 Fabien Barcella.
Reserves: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Remy Martin, 19 Damien Chouly, 20 Dimitri Yachvili, 21 Yannick Jauzion, 22 Mathieu Bastareaud.

Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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