Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Late blooming lock flourishing in test inferno

All Black lock Luke Romano is still developing in the role. Photo / Getty Images
All Black lock Luke Romano is still developing in the role. Photo / Getty Images

Doing his builder's apprenticeship then working his way into a professional rugby career has been a slow churn for All Black lock Luke Romano.

It's not quite the normal pattern of professional rugby players who seem to be on a conveyor belt from the time they leave secondary school.

About that time Romano was dealing with a crushed bone in his back as a result of rugby.

He recovered and worked his way through his apprenticeship while he continued with his rugby at the weekends.

It was not until he was 24 that he was offered a contract with the Crusaders and began his climb to the All Blacks.

That done at the start of the season, he is set to run out tomorrow against Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

He has heard plenty of stories about the famed arena and soaked up tales from teammate Daniel Carter about the atmosphere on test days.

"DC recalls the first time he played here and how it was a special occasion for him," Romano said.

How much detail Carter revealed about that test in 2004 is unclear but Romano would hope his first appearance is not as edgy as the All Blacks' 26-25 victory that day.

It was also Richie McCaw's first test as skipper because coach Graham Henry decided to rest Tana Umaga for that international.

Ali Williams was also in that touring squad and came off the bench in that match.

While Williams is looking to rediscover that zest on this tour, Romano and Brodie Retallick have pushed past him as Sam Whitelock's locking partners.

Romano began against Scotland and then hoped that performance would hold up in the team selection meeting for this weekend. It did and that was a boost for his developing test career as the coaches said they would put out the best side against Wales. "It gives you confidence they believe in you and what you have done," he said.

It told him he was on the right track in producing what the coaches wanted from their locks.

The late bloomer felt comfortable with his progress, he had learned gradually about playing the game as he grafted that on to his working life before shedding his builder's apron.

Rugby either suited your personality or not and it seemed to fit his love for the outdoors, rolling his sleeves up and getting stuck into jobs.

He was not a student of the sport like some in the squad and had only seen footage of a few All Black tests played in Cardiff.

"But since being here you understand what rugby means to the Welsh. They are very passionate and get in behind their team and having heard about the atmosphere it should be something," Romano said.

What had this year told him about himself and his progression from a debut against Ireland in Hamilton?

Consistency had to be the watchword. In Super rugby a strong game could be followed by a patchy one which was a likely result of an ebb in concentration or preparation.

That was a no go at test level. If you did that you needed to be benched or worse. "People can see if you are not pulling your weight or you are not doing the right thing," he said.

How a test went was decided by how players prepared throughout the week. There was a great deal more to rugby than playing.

All those little things had been an eye opener for Romano in his rookie year while the messages were about being direct against Wales.

"As a team we have noted in the last few games that physicality has not been up there with previous All Black performances so that is one area where we certainly want to improve," he said.

"It is not about going out there to bash people, you have to be smart about the way you want to be physical."

- NZ Herald

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