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All Blacks

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Argentina scrum

ACID TEST: The All Blacks’ pack will have to be at its best to deal with a powerful Argentina eight at scrum time on Saturday.

You can blame the goal kicker, you can blame the concession of daft technical penalties or a single colossal blunder at the wrong time.

It’s hard to argue. But the single main reason why Argentina’s strong men could dominate South Africa the other weekend and still end up losing was the train of Springbok replacements.

Coach Heyneke Meyer hooked beaten players from the pitch and sent on an eager second wave of men like Adriaan Strauss and Tendai ‘the Beast’ Mtawarira.

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TJ Perenara

SLIPPERY WHEN WET: All Black TJ Perenara catches the ball during a rain-affected training session in Napier.

Rarely do the All Blacks relish the chance to train in relentless rain and on a sodden pitch.

But when it comes to playing Argentina in New Zealand, those conditions have been a given in recent times, so today’s training at the Napier Old Boys Marist club may prove the perfect dress rehearsal for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test.

“We have a plan A and a plan B, but we have an eye on Saturday’s [forecast] and it looks like it’s going to be reasonably wet later in the week,” backs coach Ian Foster said.

“We’re going in with a plan that we want to play if the conditions are great, but our awareness of plan B is pretty high this week.”

The All Blacks are aware that they played poorly in the wet three weeks ago during a dour 12-12 draw with Australia in Sydney where they kicked too much and struggled with their handling.

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Conrad Smith

TOUGH TEST: Conrad Smith says the All Blacks will need to be smarter in coming to terms with Argentina’s unique style of rugby.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and it seems Conrad Smith has missed his old mate Ma’a Nonu during the midfield pair’s enforced break up.

The old firm has been closed for business since Smith broke his hand during the second June test against England, but seems likely to reopen for business against Argentina on Saturday.

Nonu and Malakai Fekitoa had a run during the third test thrashing of England in Hamilton, and again during a dour 12-12 draw against Australia in Sydney while Smith attended the birth of his first child.

Then in Auckland, Smith and Ryan Crotty teamed up for the Bledisloe Cup bash as Nonu sat out with a bruised shoulder.

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 Argentina

Argentina gave a good account of themselves in Hamilton last year and pride themselves on their work at the set piece.

Steve Hansen has challenged his forwards to repeat their devastating display against Australia when they meet Argentina in Napier on Saturday.

The All Blacks arrived in Hawkes Bay yesterday ahead of their Rugby Championship test against the Pumas, with coach Hansen wasting little time in putting the acid back on his big men as they prepare for what he called one of the best scrums in the game.

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Brodie Retallick

NO COMPROMISE: All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick is not one to take a backward step on the rugby field.

Brodie Retallick’s eyes light up at the prospect of locking horns with a similarly built opponent with a shared interest in physical destruction.

The All Blacks lock will likely get a chance to reacquaint himself with young Argentine lock Tomas Lavanini during Saturday’s Rugby Championship test at McLean Park.

Lavanini, a 21-year-old colossus at 2.04m and 129kg, caught Retallick’s eye last year during a stint with the Chiefs Super Rugby academy in Hamilton.

“He was definitely a physical player,” Retallick recalled on Monday. “I remember seeing a video clip where he knocked someone out just cleaning them out [of a ruck].

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Keven Mealamu

MENTOR: Keven Mealamu imparts some knowledge to All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith.

Keven Mealamu says he isn’t done yet, not by a long shot.

As another round of hand wringing about the country’s lack of depth at hooker kicks off, Mealamu has reiterated his desire to be part of next year’s World Cup campaign.

Dane Coles’ looming absence from part, or all, of the All Blacks’ trip to Argentina and South Africa later this month for the birth of his partner’s child has again highlighted the dearth of options available to coach Steve Hansen.

Bay of Plenty’s Nathan Harris was the next cab off the rank, but after that it was anybody’s guess.

“We’ve been bringing people in and out of the environment,” Hansen said.

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Sam Cane

IN THE WARS: Sam Cane has hardly played since he discovered a small fracture in his knee before the test season kicked off in June.

Sam Cane could have been excused if he sneaked off to find a heavy punching bag in Napier yesterday to vent some frustration.

It was hard not to feel a little sorry for the 22-year-old openside as the All Blacks assembled ahead of Saturday’s Rugby Championship match against Argentina.

That’s because around about the same time the All Blacks were being welcomed by 1200 fans at Napier Airport, Cane’s Bay of Plenty teammates were preparing to play Taranaki in a national provincial championship match in New Plymouth.

The thought of an extended run a game of rugby must consume a player who has seen just 40 minutes of action this year, but, unlike 10 of his All Blacks teammates, he was not released for provincial duties.

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Taine Randell

Taine Randell

On merit, history suggests Sonny Bill Williams will play second fiddle to Ma’a Nonu again.

The only time Williams genuinely cracked the All Blacks was when Nonu had a wretched run with injury. He was No 1 by default. At the last World Cup he was a bit-part player at best.

In terms of the exemption he was granted to be picked for the end of year tour without having to play in the NPC for Counties Manukau, I’m not in favour of it.

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Ma'a Nonu

Timely return: Ma’a Nonu

All Blacks centre Ma’a Nonu has been passed fit to face Argentina next weekend in the latest round of the Rugby Championship.

Nonu was absent from New Zealand’s 51-20 mauling of Australia two weeks ago at Eden Park.

The Hurricanes midfielder picked up a shoulder injury in the 12-12 draw with the Wallabies the week previously, but his return to full health is important.

Ryan Crotty, Nonu’s replacement in Auckland, has been ruled out for four weeks with a facial fracture, meaning Nonu could come straight back in.

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Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford

Zac Guildford is looking to put his past alcohol-fuelled misdemeanours behind him and launch a new chapter in his impressive rugby career with Clermont.

The bad-boy of New Zealand rugby has had his fair share of run-ins with both rugby authorities and the law, but now he says he has a more mature head on his 25-year-old shoulders.

“I made some mistakes in my youth. The time had come to make some changes in my life and coming to Clermont was one of the best I could make,” he said.

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The 1995 All Blacks

LINGERING PAIN: The 1995 All Blacks look on after losing the World Cup final at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.

The awful truth about the Wallabies’ hammering last weekend is that by 2015 the All Blacks could roll out an entirely different back line and dish it out all over again.

Wallowing in pessimism? Perhaps, but look at the stockpile of talent that wasn’t even in the 23 in Auckland that, in theory, they could select next year.

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Michael Hooper

DEJECTED: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper trudges off Eden Park after his team was hammered by the All Blacks on Saturday night.

Test captain Michael Hooper says the Wallabies will hear a few home truths when they come back together for the first time since one of their worst losses to the All Blacks.

Hooper, who scored one of the Wallabies’ two late tries at Eden Park last weekend, described the side’s performance as ”terrible” and way off their best.

After a few days to stew on the 51-20 drubbing – he still has not watched a replay – Hooper said the Wallabies had to bounce back.

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Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan

Jonathan Kaplan has questioned whether the Springboks understand the nuances at scrums and breakdowns.

Despite winning 33-31 in Salta at the weekend, the Bok front row suffered humiliation at the hands of Argentina, with the reputations of Jannie du Plessis and Gurthro Steenkamp taking serious body blows.

Kaplan noted this when he analysed the Boks’ performance on his website, www.ratetheref.co.za.

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Brad Thorn

Brad Thorn: One of a kind

Bigger, faster, and stronger – it’s a wonder any professional rugby player lasts more than a handful of seasons before terminal injury strikes.

Professional rugby players’ representatives love to say how short their client’s careers will be – usually while negotiating for a pay rise.

They operate in an increasingly brutal arena, one tackle away from enforced retirement.

The average size of an All Black forward increased from 100kg to 113kg since rugby went professional in the mid-1990s and the backs have ballooned from 82kg to 94kg.

Collisions are now compared to car crashes. Concussion has become an unwelcome theme.

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Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

Not until we get into the next group of games will we have some perspective and context in which to put the first two rounds of the Rugby Championship.

The All Blacks’ forward strength will be tested when they take on the Pumas and their physicality will be tested against the Springboks.

A win in either away game will put the Bokke in a powerful position, the Wallabies will have to bounce back from their thumping defeat at Eden Park or face an exit from calculations, and we will find out how many of their bullets Argentina has fired already.

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Argentina scrum

How Jannie Du Plessis and Gurthro Steenkamp saw the Argentina scrum

There are two things that we can take from the second round of the Rugby Championship 2014.

  1. The All Blacks are clearly not ‘on the slide’. In fact if anything they are on the up and up and all the 12-all draw did was to inspire them to dick punch the Wallabies in their faces, hard.
  2. The Pumas’ ‘Bajada’ scrum is a thing of beauty, unless you are the Springboks, then it is a thing of nightmares.

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Tom Wood

Tom Wood makes ground against the All Blacks in the summer.

Northampton flanker Tom Wood has said that the England squad has been told they have to get much fitter in the light of their series whitewash by New Zealand in the summer.

In an interview in the Daily Telegraph, Wood said that one of the issues is that the week-in, week-out club game no longer prepares players well enough for the rigours of the international game.

“International level is dramatically different to the club game,” he said. “We have been shown data that illustrates that.

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IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 - EnglandA New Zealand radio station has been criticised after running a competition to see how far its male listeners will go to win tickets to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

The Edge offered tickets if two heterosexual male friends got married. “We’ve done stranger weddings, naked weddings, same sex weddings but this is the first one that we know will end in divorce,” the station said in its promotional material.

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Steve Hansen & Sonny Bill Williams

‘ONE OF THE BEST’: All Blacks coach Steve Hansen shares a moment in 2012 with favoured player Sonny Bill Williams.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made it clear that Sonny Bill Williams will be on the end of year tour, though there are no guarantees he will play any games.

Hansen has voiced his views on the controversial decision to get Williams instantly into the All Blacks selection mix on his return from rugby league, even though he may not have played for his Counties Manukau union. His selection would be against ordinary New Zealand Rugby regulations.

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South AfricaVictor Matfield is over his injury problems and will rejoin the Springbok squad when they get together for the Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, while Marcel van der Merwe has been called up for the injured Frans Malherbe.

Furthermore, Willem Alberts has also been drafted back into the squad, pending a fitness test on Thursday when the squad gets together in Johannesburg. Both Alberts and Matfield were part of the initial 30-man squad, but missed out on the victories over Argentina in Pretoria and Salta because of injury.

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Sir Colin "Pinetree" Meads

Sir Colin “Pinetree” Meads

Eleven legends of New Zealand rugby have been inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame at a special ceremony in Auckland on Friday 21 August, staged the night before a Bledisloe Cup match in Eden Park.

This latest induction represents the incorporation into the IRB Hall of Fame of many of the International Rugby Hall of Fame, which was recently acquired by the IRB and presentations were made by Hall of Fame panel member Don Cameron and New Zealand Rugby chief executive Steve Tew. The new inductees are: Fred Allen, Don Clarke, Grant Fox, Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones, Ian Kirkpatrick, John Kirwan, Terry McLean, Colin Meads, Graham Mourie and George Nepia.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “The IRB Hall of Fame recognises those who have made an indelible mark on our sport through feats on the field of play, displays of great character or through their tireless and inspirational work in driving forward our great Game.”

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Jean De Villiers

Jean De Villiers

Springbok captain Jean de Villiers is clear that his team need to take a massive step up before they face the Wallabies in Perth in their next Castle Lager Rugby Championship game on 6 September.

The Bok captain arrived home from the great Salta escape – where the Boks needed a penalty four minutes from time to beat a plucky, aggressive Argentinean team – knowing that the weight of public outrage at the result would be waiting for his team.

But De Villiers is a pragmatist, and, as he points out: it wasn’t the greatest of performances, but a win is a win.

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Michael Hooper

DEJECTED: Wallabies captain Michael Hooper trudges off Eden Park after his team was hammered by the All Blacks on Saturday night.

The Wallabies will have plenty of down-time over the next week to ”mentally relax” after their humiliation by the All Blacks at Eden Park, captain Michael Hooper has said.

The 22-year-old flanker was one of the few Australian players to stand up during the 51-20 onslaught, which kept the Bledisloe Cup, the annual trophy contested between the two nations, in New Zealand hands for a 12th consecutive year.

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Fireworks & Haka

Fireworks signal the end of the haka

The New Zealand Rugby Union has apologised to three fans who were hurt by fireworks during the build-up to Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup game at Eden Park.

One woman had to go to hospital after she was hit by debris from the fireworks which marked the end of the haka while another man suffered a gash to the head and was treated pitchside by paramedics.

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Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams

Sonny Bill Williams has been granted a special exemption to be picked for the All Blacks’ end of year tour.

New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew confirmed on Monday Williams would not need to play in the National Provincial Championship following his commitments with the Sydney Roosters in the NRL.

NZRU rules state that players must take part in the preceding domestic competition in order to be eligible for the All Blacks.

However, the board voted on Friday to make an exemption for Williams should he not be able to make an appearance for Counties-Manukau either due to the length of the Roosters season, or injury.

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Brodie Retallick

Brodie retallick

What a difference a week makes.

The All Blacks forwards confirmed they had the acid put on them during that week, both by their coaches and by themselves, to put things right.

The conditions were perfect at Eden Park on Saturday night and when the black pack turned up with much improved intensity, physicality and enthusiasm the platform was laid on for a rout.

At the centre of it was Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick – at the tender age of 23 already a tight five international veteran and continuing to build his reputation as a test rugby super star within a 2.04 metre, 119 kilogram body.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw being congratulated by Aaron Cruden

Another Test, another couple of world records for All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.

The veteran flanker scored two tries, the third double of his 129-Test career, as New Zealand pummelled the Wallabies 51-20 in Auckland to retain the Bledisloe Cup.

In doing so, he took his tally to 23 tries, the most in Tests by any forward from a tier-one nation.

The previous record was 22, scored by former Wales No 8 Colin Charvis.

McCaw, 33, also holds the record for the most tries by any player against a tier-one opponent, surpassing a number of prolific outside backs.

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Richie McCaw & Kieran Read

Richie McCaw and Kieran Read showing off the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks have become like those bad guys in western movies who you hate so much you end up loving them.

Yet again Australia had their pants pulled down and we have this deflating scenario where the Test year is nine days old yet nothing seems to matter any more.

The Bledisloe Cup is gone, the four nations title is on its way out the door yet for some reason I feel minimal pain because there is a sense that justice has been done.

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Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie

Ewen McKenzie is sharpening his axe, forecasting changes to the Wallabies side massacred by the All Blacks at Eden Park.

Injuries to hooker Nathan Charles and winger Pat McCabe will bring at least two new selections but more are in the offing following Saturday night’s 50-21 drubbing.

McKenzie confirmed he would look closely at promoting several squad members “itching to get a go” for Australia’s next Rugby Championship clash, against South Africa in Perth on Saturday week.

He earmarked powerful Brumbies centre Tevita Kuridrani for a return that would likely see Adam Ashley-Cooper move back to the wing spot left vacant by McCabe (neck).

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Matthew Burke

Matthew Burke

Two games are gone against New Zealand and it’s now time to move the attention to South Africa. That is a whole different kettle of fish. When you take on South Africa, the playing field changes slightly.

The first change is in terms of physicality, the second in aggression and finally in terms of tactics. Games against South Africa just seem to be just that little bit harder and definitely more scatty.

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Bob Dwyer

Bob Dwyer

I reckon we’ve heard a lot of talk over the last 24 hours about how well New Zealand played – which the did.

Did they play unbelievably well? There’s no way of making that assessment. There’s no way to completely evaluate their performance.

Sure, their passing was accurate and running straight. Sure, 95% of their passes weren’t too long.

Sure, their support play and their realignment in both attack and defence were good and urgent.

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Ryan Crotty

Jaw injury: Ryan Crotty

New Zealand centre Ryan Crotty has been ruled out for four weeks after fracturing a facial bone during the weekend’s win over the Wallabies.

The Crusaders back, who enjoyed an impressive first start on the international scene in the 51-20 triumph, suffered a heavy impact in Auckland.

Steve Hansen must now decide whether Malakai Fekitoa should don twelve against Argentina if Ma’a Nonu does not recover by September 6.

Meanwhile, Cory Jane (knee), Beauden Barrett (ankle) and Aaron Cruden (pectoral) are all expected to recover in time for the Napier fixture.

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Jeff Wilson

Jeff Wilson

Beware the Boks. The more things change with our old mates across the Tasman, the more they stay the same with our greatest rivals in the republic.

We’ve been a bit preoccupied with the Wallabies of late but when you think about the challenge last year and the challenge that never goes away, it remains the South Africans. Nothing changes there.

Their tests against the All Blacks this year are important for them, not just for the Rugby Championship but working out how to beat the world champions.

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