Monday, June 07, 2010


As violent weather battered Taranaki, the All Blacks were warmed by a raucous airport welcome as they arrived tonight with a patched-up squad for their test rugby season opener against Ireland.

With roads south of New Plymouth closed due to flooding, the All Blacks' plane battled strong winds and heavy rain as they flew in ahead of tomorrow's opening training for Saturday's test here.

Led off the plane by captain Richie McCaw and Piri Weepu, they were greeted by around 200 locals who cheered their arrival as a Maori cultural group gave them a stirring welcome.
McCaw was last to board the bus as he was besieged by young autograph hunters.

The All Blacks will play just their second test in New Plymouth, after a 101-14 stroll against Samoa in September 2008.

"Normally when I get to this airport I just quietly trundle through. It's pretty awesome, it shows what it means to the region so I'm sure the boys will appreciate it," said All Blacks centre Conrad Smith, a former New Plymouth local.

The All Blacks will largely fly solo to promote Saturday's test, with Ireland only jetting into Auckland tonight after their second-stringers lost 29-23 to a Barbarians side containing Rodney So'oialo and Byron Kelleher.
They will train in Auckland and won't arrive in town until Thursday.

Tomorrow's session will give an indication of coach Graham Henry's thinking for Tuesday's All Blacks team naming.

Henry said yesterday that he and assistant coaches Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith had already settled on their 22 which is almost certain to be without fullback Mils Muliaina (calf), midfielder Richard Kahui (chest) and lock Tom Donnelly (ankle).

Muliaina and Kahui are expected to test their fitness in Waikato club rugby this weekend.
The three injured men all travelled to New Plymouth along with those called in as cover: Ben Smith, Rene Ranger and Sam Whitelock.
The latter looks certain to be named in the 22, most likely off the bench behind Brad Thorn and Anthony Boric, after an impressive Crusaders season.

"Sam Whitelock will get his chance to play test match rugby very quickly," Henry said as the team wrapped up their Auckland camp.

Another test debutant will be Benson Stanley in No 12 after Ma'a Nonu (knee), Isaia Toeava (hip) and now Kahui's injury woes.

Said Henry: "Everybody who's a test match player has to start at some stage. The good thing about Benson is that he's a bright boy.
"He's played quite a bit of rugby at the level below. He's one of the navigators of the Blues so he's used to being a leader. He's quite a mature footballer to come in as a 25-year-old."

Smith, a long-time midfield partner of Nonu's, will need to quickly strike up a combination with Stanley with the pair never having played together.

"We've had a couple of training runs and if we are playing together we've got the rest of the week to work on that. I played against him a couple of times. He's pretty impressive."

Without injured frontliners such as Muliana, Donnelly, Kahui, Nonu, Toeava, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Ali Williams and Andrew Hore, the All Blacks have several combinations to gel this week.

The team selection appears straightforward, other than the back three as the coaches decide whether to play Cory Jane at his preferred fullback spot, or on the wing, and introduce another newcomer in Highlanders fullback Israel Dagg.

Jane would appear the likely fullback, leaving Joe Rokocoko and Zac Guildford on the wings.
Either way, Smith was impressed by the team's early sessions in Auckland.

"When you come together as a group there's a lot of excitement and it's been like that again. I always enjoy it, and it's a good feel so far."

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