Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Poison risk still in mind

All Black Doctor Deb Robinson. Photo / Getty Images
All Black Doctor Deb Robinson. Photo / Getty Images

Few people realise that the food poisoning saga at the 1995 World Cup remains an issue for touring All Black sides - so much so that they have changed their dining routines on tour.

The All Blacks' sickness before that fateful World Cup final was reprised by England, just before the 2007 tournament. Also (strangely) touring South Africa, they contracted a bug which sent David Strettle, Andy Farrell and Peter Richards into hospital. The team doctor's gut feeling was the players were suffering from norovirus which occurs especially in hospitals and rest homes.

Its origins are uncertain but, once it gets into an environment, it spreads rapidly throughout groups almost before the first person shows signs of ill-health. The effects lasted about three days and once norovirus has a hold, it is difficult to stop it spreading.

That outbreak encouraged All Black Dr Deb Robinson to consult her England colleagues. In the debrief after that 2007 World Cup, it was decided to ensure that, if the team got a food-related illness, it did not strike too many of the team at once.

One of the All Black rituals about dining out together on Thursdays was changed. The squad went out on Tuesday. Smaller groups dined out later in the week. If they are unlucky enough to catch a bug, there are a reduced number of players affected.

That regime still exists and Robinson says: "We are at risk because we are in high-risk environments where we are using buses, we are in hotels and in contact with the public. "

Often players on tour like to catch up with family and friends on a Thursday or, if the test was in their home city, they went home.

"So we had a new normal after 2007," Robinson says. "We had one player with gastro in the 2011 World Cup and we were lucky it did not spread any further - but it does remind me that we are at risk."

The All Blacks try to keep things simple and do not want to over-control things so it is a matter of getting that balance right.

Nutritionist Katrina Darry works out a structure around meals and sends that wish-list to the chef at the team hotel.

Hygiene protocols in modern hotels are strict, with staff measuring temperatures in shaping dishes and in kitchens, there are a whole lot of food safety steps they have to take.

The All Blacks have loved the food in Italy. Dishes each night include veal, risotto, pasta, chicken, pork, sea bass and salmon, though the All Blacks staff want them to be cooked simply. Lunches are make-your-own sandwiches and make-your-own wraps that players are used to at home.

They have been offered salads like a potato, garlic and smoked fish concoction which was popular. Desserts like panacotta and panettone were also on the menu.

Pre-match, the All Blacks eat lunch four hours before kick-off. That is always the same. They are offered chicken or fish, mashed potatoes, spaghetti, poached eggs on toast, sandwiches and soup. Some of the players get hungry again before kick-off and have creamed rice or scones in their room. They always drink plenty of fluids.

Afterwards they are equally diligent with a protein shake and are offered food like sushi, chicken or lollies. Some eat, others don't - it doesn't matter and there are a number of alternatives.

But there was no dithering if some food comes into the shed which looks a little dodgy. Baggage man Errol Collins bins it.

- Herald on Sunday

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