Primed All Blacks await Stormers


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The Stormers, fresh from their promising 16-10 win over the Waratahs in Sydney, arrived in Christchurch to the news that the Crusaders’ World Cup reconditioned All Blacks are primed and ready to take them apart.

If the Stormers had hoped the win over the Waratahs had signalled the end of their roller coaster, loss-win-loss-win-loss-win season, then they may be in for a rude awakening.

Richard McCaw, Chris Jack, Leon MacDonald, Daniel Carter and Aaron Mauger – who all made their return to the Crusaders jersey during a specially arranged hit out between a Crusaders XV and a Canterbury Development selection at the weekend – are back at the office and ready for some serious action.

Carter and McCaw, as usual, both got onto the score-sheet, but it was the actual playing of the game – rather than the outcome – that most thrilled the All Black players.

“It was good to get the run under our belts,” Crusaders and All Black captain McCaw said.

“The conditioning programme has been a great preparation for the year ahead, but it is good to be back playing. This run will set us up nicely to get back into things in the Super 14.”

Jack concurred.

“You can do all of the training you like but there is no substitute for actually playing,” he said.

“It’s been good to get out and bang into a few people. The contact we’ve gained will serve us well, in terms of getting us back into it again before we start playing competition games.”

While the sixth member of the Crusaders’s All Black conditioning programme, Reuben Thorne, didn’t appear in the match due to a hamstring strain, he is expected to be fit for selection to face the Stormers at Jade Stadium on Saturday, 24 March.

Thorne will join the rest of the conditioning All Blacks in assembling for their first full Crusaders training on Monday, after the internationals largely operated as a separate training group during their first week back with the squad.

“It wasn’t always easy watching the guys play and not being able to help out, but I’m really proud of how they’ve gone,” Jack says.

“The younger ones have done really well and have given us a good start to the competition. I’m just looking forward to having the chance to be able to get out there and contribute.”

This of course, leaves coach Robbie Deans with a pleasant selection poser.

With his All Blacks ready and waiting, what to do with the raft of youngsters – including new stars like Stephen Brett, Tim Bateman and Michael Paterson – that served him so well in the first seven weeks of the Super 14 tournament.

Deans, speaking after his team of young guns had demolished the Bulls 32-10 at the weekend, acknowledged that the young players made sure the All Blacks won’t have an armchair ride back into the side.

“When you look at our side there are some young men in there,” Deans said.

“This was their fourth South African side in a row and they are demanding physically. It was great to see them get up and close out the game.”

Bateman, who played at number 12, was one of those who grew in the absence of the protected All Blacks.

“He’s only 19 and that try he scored early in the second half was a pretty important moment for us,” Deans said.

Lock Paterson was another who left an undoubted impression on the coach.

“Michael is always seeking ways of getting into the game and making a difference, which is a good trait. He’s going to get a lot more rugby for the Crusaders in time.”

Deans said he will find a way of managing the return of the All Blacks without disrupting the team rhythm.

“If Reuben [Thorne] is okay – and the medics assure us he will be – they will all get access to the game next week, it’s just a matter of when.”

Caretaker captain Corey Flynn said the stand-in players wanted to ensure the All Blacks have to work to get their places back and he felt they achieved that goal against the Bulls.

“That was out focus,” Flynn said.

“We wanted to make them push for a position, not just give them a position. I think we’ve done that.

“This is a young side and it proved that the Crusaders are going to be strong in years to come,” Flynn added.

Deans had a few words of caution to his charges, following their demolition of the Bulls.

“To be fair, I think the Bulls were flat – they didn’t play well – the Stormers will be a different proposition next week. But we capitalised on some of the opportunities we had and created a lot more than we finished, so the signs were good.”


365 Digital

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