Sean Fitzpatrick 's Opinion

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean Fitzpatrick on the All Blacks: Nervous but in a good way

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Kevin Mealamu of the All Blacks in action against Australia. Photo / APN
Kevin Mealamu of the All Blacks in action against Australia. Photo / APN

I'm nervous about tonight's Rugby World Cup final (which is good; I was nervous last week too and look what happened) but not so nervous that I can't stop and salute Keven Mealamu who is set to take the title of the All Blacks' most capped hooker.

Kevvy equals my 92 test caps tonight and you'd have to say he looks likely to go on and become our third test centurion after Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina. He deserves it. I am glad he is on our side and if you watch him closely in the tests he plays, you will already understand why he is selected time and again for the All Blacks.

He is mobile but extremely strong and he always - guaranteed - gets you over the advantage line and gets the ball back. In the modern game, I cannot tell you how golden that is. We saw him do exactly that in the quarter-final against Argentina and the semifinal against the Wallabies. He has a nice little step, he goes through tackles with a low body position that seems to defy gravity sometimes and certainly defies tacklers. He mightily helps the All Blacks build phases.

He gives the All Blacks a lot of their go-forward and he has become better and better with age - his mobility has always been good (I think he started out as a flanker); his scrummaging has improved, his lineout throwing is better and his ball security is incredible. You rarely see Keven Mealamu lose the ball.

Look at the way Bok hooker John Smit carries the ball, or England's Dylan Hartley. If you go into a tackle against them, there is always a 50-50 chance you'll get the ball as the way they carry it is not technically correct. Keven, on the other hand, is outstanding carrying the ball.

I had him when I was manager of the under-21s along with another All Black-to-be, Tom Willis. It was obvious then Keven was going places and now he stands at the top of the tree in terms of All Black caps as a hooker. As an aside, his son plays with my nephew in South Auckland and they are raving about him too - so there may well be another Mealamu on the way.

You can see Kevvy's dedication even in the way he warms up before a test - very focused, committed and disciplined. He is also a nice man and he is one of the first people you think of when Graham Henry mentions his "good people make good All Blacks" mantra.

We've been lucky in this World Cup to see so many good hookers - the top four in the world; Bismarck du Plessis, Mealamu, Stephen Moore and William Servat of France - and two of them square off tonight.

And so to that game - I have been a bit surprised by all the feeling expressed that this French team are not capable of disturbing the All Blacks. I know what people mean - but I just can't see it that way. I have played the French too many times and lost too many times to believe that. I know that, man-for-man, the All Blacks are probably a better team by 15-20 points but I am reluctant to say that out loud because I know what the French are capable of.

Look, they have one of the best hookers in the world, the best tighthead prop in the world (Nicolas Mas), a strong lineout and probably the best loose forward trio, as a trio, outside of the All Blacks. They have a world-class halfback and goalkickers.

Some say they play in such a patterned, formulaic way that they no longer have the skills to upset the All Blacks. Again, I don't believe that. All right, the coaching in France may have gone far more for the percentages than the old, intuitive way the French used to play - when the mood was on them. But the players still have the skills; they can run, catch, pass and put people into holes with the best of them.

They are not like watching England when you can see some of their players are uncomfortable trying to play running rugby; the French still have a creative well they can tap. In their match against England, they let England do their worst and then played all the rugby and put them away; and then closed the match down. It was a very professional job.

So the All Blacks have to do what they did last week - start with such intensity and accuracy that they remove the threat of the French growing in confidence. That is when they are most dangerous and why I am so wary of them.

I bet too that Richie will be making mention of Cardiff 2007 before they run out to play. In 1987, our catchcry was "Remember Nantes" after the bad loss there to the French in 1986 and I am sure Cardiff will figure in Richie's team talk. No one gave them even the smell of a chance there and look what happened.

Which is why I remain ... nervous.

- Herald on Sunday

Sean Fitzpatrick

Sean Fitzpatrick is a former All Blacks captain and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Sean ‘Fitzy’ Fitzpatrick remains one of the greatest rugby players to have graced the game and one of the All Blacks’ most celebrated captains. Throughout his stellar he played 128 matches from 1986 up until his retirement in 1998. His 11 years of captaincy were heralded as some of the most prolific in All Blacks history, including captaining the team to their first ever series win against the Springboks in South Africa in 1996 – a record achievement in its own right.

Read more by Sean Fitzpatrick

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