Gerry Thornley: All Blacks won’t be budged from the collective

Talk of retiring stars is pushed aside as focus remains on final with Australia

Ben Smith of the All Blacks is spotted by Aaron Smith during a New Zealand training session at London Irish  in Bagshot. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Ben Smith of the All Blacks is spotted by Aaron Smith during a New Zealand training session at London Irish in Bagshot. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

 

A World Cup cycle has increasingly come to represent the end of international careers across the rugby firmament, and for this exceptional group of All Blacks that has never been truer.

Saturday’s World Cup final could be the perfect climax to the careers of their various centurions, the French-bound duo of Dan Carter and Ma’a Nonu, as well as Keven Mealamu and Richie McCaw (whose future intentions are unclear) and also the 93-times capped Conrad Smith, who is joining Pau.

If each were to become some of the first back-to-back World Cup winners in the history of the game, even grizzled Kiwis might be tempted to shed a tear or two. Yet, true to type and no less than the Wallabies under Michael Cheika’s watch, focussing on individuals – even a stellar group of them – is not the All Blacks way. That would be a distraction.

“I don’t think we need to spend much time on it at all,” said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster yesterday. “It’s the Rugby World Cup final. We’ve talked about this particular game for a long, long time. We’ve had to work hard to be here and now for all the team, whether they’re thinking of moving on or not, this is all about the here and the now. This is the moment. There’ll be plenty of time afterwards to talk about people, but we don’t want to waste this opportunity.”

There was a similarly deadpan straight bat from last year’s World Player of the year Brodie Retallick, one of five players wheeled out yesterday that, most probably by design rather than accident, was not involved in the 2011 success.

Asked the same question, Retallick promoted laughter when saying: “No, probably not to be fair. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be put on that pedestal. We’re all team-mates. Obviously, it’s going to be a special moment for them and maybe afterwards we’ll reflect on that but I probably won’t during the week.”

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Reflecting on Australia’s semi-final win over Argentina on Sunday, Foster described it as a great game. “I thought both teams looked out on their feet. Argentina carried on their attacking mentality and the Australians continued their progress through the tournament. They’ll be pretty satisfied with the job done.”

Nor did Foster concur with the view that the presence of New Zealand and Australia showed that this was a reward for expansive rugby. “I don’t think we could say that. If you look at Argentina, they’ve played really expansively. Most teams have played with the ball quite a bit during this tournament. The quality of games has been quite outstanding.”

Australlia are the only side to have beaten the All Blacks this year, their victory in Sydney sealing them the Rugby Championship before New Zealand gained handsome revenge a week later when Cheika put the David Pocock-Michael Hooper backrow combination back in cold storage. They would have no bearing on this rather more important ‘decider’ according to Foster.

“I think it’s a total clean sheet. The lessons we learned from Sydney and Eden Park we’ve already applied in our game and put them into practice. It’s a great rivalry and clearly we’ve played each other a few times but it’s pretty special to play in a World Cup final against them.”

Much was made of the All Blacks re-locating from their hotel in Weybridge to the English team’s state-of-the-art facilities at the five-star Pennyhill Park in Bagshot for the remainder of the week. It has replica of the Twickenham surface and pitch dimensions amongst the 123-acre parkland, which is also in Surrey.

“I’ve been to The Lensbury (in Teddington) and enjoyed it but I haven’t been to Pennyhill so you may have to ask us tomorrow” said Foster. “I’ve heard it’s pretty posh but quite frankly it’s an external issue that doesn’t really make any difference. Hopefully I’m getting my point across that we’ve got a World Cup final on Saturday, and nothing else really matters than just us preparing well.

“So where we stay, the bed or the training field is not really that important. Obviously you guys are making out it is quite posh so I’m getting quite excited now, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a hotel, a training field and a gym. And will we want to copy stuff and take it back home? Well there’s a lot of facilities over here we’d love to take back home. This country’s got some amazing facilities and they should be very proud of them.”

It was suggested to Foster that the All Blacks’ success proves they can achieve things without such comparative state-of-the-art facilities, he said: “It doesn’t prove anything. It’s just different. We’re in a different environment. We haven’t got the ability to do that. So we have to find our own way to do things, and I’m sure they do the same here.”

Maintaining the All Blacks’ well-honed, dead-bat themes, Dane Coles also shrugged off their impending move to Pennyhill. “At the end of the day we’ve stayed in a few hotels and it’s just a bed to be honest. You get used to the hotel lifestyle. I think they’ve pumped a bit of money into it and I heard it’s quite nice facilities but as long as it’s got a bed and somewhere to put our bags, it’s just another building.”

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