Rugby: All Blacks ready to confront ‘unknown’ northern foes

The All Blacks returned to training, following a week off on the Sunshine Coast, knowing their imminent five-test northern tour will provide another telling yardstick to measure their dented credentials.

Setting aside the next test against the USA in Washington DC on October 23 that’s expected to be something of a training exercise, the first taste of Northern Hemisphere opposition in two years will reveal much more about the All Blacks’ development, and their ability to cope with contrasting, suffocating styles.

Senior lock Brodie Retallick is keen to embrace the challenges that accompany the All Blacks’ first northern tour since 2018. The best of rugby’s north versus south last met at the 2019 World Cup after the global pandemic scrubbed out reciprocal tours since.

“It’s going to be massive in terms of understanding where this group is at and also growing our game,” Retallick said. “We played Australia and Argentina who were a similar style to us and then South Africa plays different to the rest of us. Heading to Europe they’ll probably play a similar game. It will be different conditions, probably cold and wet, so it’ll be hugely important to measure ourselves and a great learning opportunity for the squad.”

As he prepares to rejoin the team following his comeback match for Wellington last week, All Blacks hooker Dane Coles can’t wait to resume hostilities with the north.

“It’s a bit of an unknown,” Coles said of a tour that features tests against Wales, Italy, Ireland and France. “We didn’t play any of those teams last year and not many of the boys would have seen much of the Six Nations. We’ll have to adapt and adjust to the teams we play and there will be a few guys who haven’t played in the Rugby Championship who will get a run as well. I’m really looking forward to getting back in there.”

After a week off in Noosa, the All Blacks held an open training session at the Sunshine Coast Stadium on Tuesday where a few hundred fans flocked to cheer them through the gruelling Bronco fitness test.

The All Blacks are dedicating the early stages of this week to reviewing their 31-29 loss to the Springboks. First they tackled their attack, with the defence and set piece to follow before switching focus to the USA. The team leaves for the States this Sunday on a 30-hour journey that includes four flights.

Retallick put his hand up for the malfunctioning lineout which lost seven throws across two tests against the Boks.

“It’s been good to have this time to go out, train, and break things down so when we get to Europe we can nail it,” Retallick said. “The Boks put us under a lot of pressure. When you break it down I’ve got to be better there and call some better options and not be so focused on them. I’ll take a lot of responsibility there so that’s something we’re going to tidy up over the next couple of days.”

At this juncture, following the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks would usually return from a refreshing break at home with family. Lapping up the beaches and golf courses the Sunshine Coast has to offer is far from the worst place to be, particularly when New Zealand’s largest city has been locked down for two months, but the recent break evoked pangs of homesickness among the All Blacks.

“There’s been some tough days when you don’t have a game at the end of the week that you’re working towards or your normal routine,” Retallick said. “Right now we’re supposed to be back home catching up with the wives, girlfriends, kids so it takes a bit of a toll. In saying that when we left we knew what to expect. The boys have been getting around each other but this little lull makes you miss the family more than normal.”

The USA come off a humbling 34-15 loss to Uruguay that booked the South America’s 2023 World Cup spot in the All Blacks pool alongside hosts France, Italy and a yet-to-be-determined African side.

Given that result, the All Blacks should canter to a blowout victory. In their last meeting with the USA in Chicago in 2014, the All Blacks romped to a 74-6 win.

Retallick believes the influx of Coles, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell and rookie lock Josh Lord in Washington DC will help keep the squad on edge.

“Every week there is a mental aspect. We had a massive build up for the South African games, with the first one being 100 tests, and then trying to beat the world No 1 back-to-back. We’re going to have a week where we’re doing a lot of travel and there’s new guys joining the squad and they’ll be excited to be back in. We’re not going to underestimate it, but there will be things we’re focusing on to try build our game when we head north.”

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