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All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick says the Bordeaux break has the team well-placed for a strong finish to pool play.
Veteran All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick has given the Bordeaux getaway a big tick of approval as the All Blacks head back to work in Lyon for a week that could make or break their Rugby World Cup campaign.
Ian Foster’s New Zealanders resume play in Pool A against Italy in Lyon on Saturday (NZT) after a two-week break since their last tournament outing – a 71-3 victory over Namibia in Toulouse.
In a bid to keep things fresh, Foster took his men to the southwest city of Bordeaux for the bye week, and gave his players two full days off around a Monday public hitout and two high-octane training sessions on Wednesday and Friday. They return to Lyon on Saturday (Sunday NZT) to launch the buildup to a must-win game against the undefeated Italians that will decide second spot in the group.
It’s a match the All Blacks are taking hugely seriously, despite their dominant record over the Azzurri in the World Cup arena. They are well aware of the improvement Kieran Crowley’s side has made in recent years, and also the fact that defeat would see them tumble out of the global tournament at the pool stage for the first time in their history.
Thus Bordeaux being more a work trip than some sort of mid-tournament vacation.
“It’s definitely been all business,” said Retallick after Friday’s training session at Stade Chaban-Delmas. “On Wednesday we did a lot of unit work on scrum, maul and lineout and today was more around the team and our game and phase-play. Normal test weeks we don’t always get a chance to spend a lot of time on those things, so hopefully we’ve got a more well-rounded game now.
“You know training is ramped up when you walk off feeling pretty stiff and you need a day to recover after a midweek session. It’s been good. We’ve had a real focus on tidying areas of our game and getting better at some things that are going well. We’re in a good spot heading into the start of our test week.”
They certainly are. Sam Cane (back), Shannon Frizell (hamstring), Tyrel Lomax (cut) and Jordie Barrett (knee) are all back in the mix of a squad missing only suspended prop Ethan de Groot, and forwards coach Jason Ryan has wound up the pressure on his big men to deliver a game-changing platform against the Italians.
After talking about the importance of “changing gear” for the next phase of the tournament, he added: “Us going up a level is around the low numbers (the forwards). The boys have worked hard in that area this week and it’s a contest that Italy will be looking forward to, as are we. They’re a spirited team, they’re really well coached and we’re going to have to be right on from the start.”
Retallick backed the view that the Italians pose a legitimate threat.
“It’s a big game in terms of this pool,” he said. “They’ve got a very slick attack the way they kind of pop up outside each other and have forwards running down. We have to be aware there and making good decisions defensively. Also, we need to get our game right in terms of set piece and our ball-carry to nullify that.
“It’s not too different to anyone else in terms of how we approach it. But there’s a lot riding on the outcome, that’s for sure.”
The All Blacks are 16-0 all time against Italy and 5-0 at World Cups, where matchups have been mostly one-sided. But Retallick looks at some other numbers for his guidance.
“It’s a couple of years since we last played (a 47-9 victory in Rome in 2021). But they’ve shown massive improvement. They’ve been working hard and last year when they beat the Wallabies, we were all sitting around watching them. It’s awesome to see.”
Retallick was also qualified, in a sense, to speak to star French halfback Antoine Dupont’s fractured cheekbone (suffered in the 96-0 rout of Namibia) that puts the remainder of his World Cup in doubt. The Kiwi lock suffered the same injury in last year’s series decider against Ireland in Wellington, and took around five weeks to make it back on the field.
“He’s a great player and it’s a shame to see him not out there, especially at a World Cup,” said the 104-test lock. “Depending on how bad it is, it’s a tough injury and I still have some numbness down my face from it. I wish him all the best with that recovery.”
Ryan added his best wishes to the French skipper who guided the home side to their historic 27-13 victory over the All Blacks to open the tournament.
“He’s a phenomenal player, but I’d say for France it would just be next man in. I’m not sure what the outcome is. I haven’t heard for how long [he’s out], but you never like to see that for any player.
“It is a shame for the World Cup, especially in his home country. But I’ve got no doubt that he’ll be trying to put himself forward as quick as he can to play.”