Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Time for All Blacks to echo Snell's achievement

Beauden Barrett's parents' farm is just 15 minutes north of Peter Snell's birthplace in Opunake, Photo / Getty Images.
Beauden Barrett's parents' farm is just 15 minutes north of Peter Snell's birthplace in Opunake, Photo / Getty Images.

Young men clad in black made gold history for New Zealand in Rome and 52 years later it is the turn of the modern gladiators.

At the same, but remodelled, venue tomorrow, the All Blacks will search for the gilded rewards Peter Snell and Murray Halberg claimed with their Olympic victories inside a glorious hour at Stadio Olimpico.

For rising All Black talent Beauden Barrett there is another link, with his parents' farm just 15 minutes north of Snell's birthplace in Opunake, where his statue was unveiled three years ago.

"The locals are very proud of our links with Snell and it will be great to play in the stadium where he achieved such fame. It means a lot to the All Blacks and New Zealand I'm sure to be connected with such great athletes," he said.

If the All Blacks produce a golden hour of rugby against Italy they may give the selectors an extra thought about the side they want to put out against the defending Six Nations champions, Wales, next weekend.

That is unlikely. It might require a further injury or two for Steve Hansen to reassess his senior combination.

They have done the business for the bulk of this year.

There have been glitches, two narrow escapes and some resounding rugby. They were still developing their new style and that took patience.

Fullback Israel Dagg is one of the many key planks in the new structure and while he has recovered well from his heavy landing in Edinburgh, who knows what might happen at training.

Barrett will showcase his fullback talents for the team against Italy tomorrow in what should at least be an audition for the bench.

"It's my first start in the All Blacks and it's exciting with the No 15 jersey on, especially with the wings we have and all the talent in front of me," he said.

"They will kick a lot, they are a bit unpredictable with that too, chip kicks, box kicks and mixing it up, so we will have to be on our toes.

"There could be plenty of opportunities to attack, plenty of running I'd say."

The All Black management want their side to express themselves in much the way the squad opened their tour of Europe with such a decisive win against Scotland.

This is the stage for men such as Julian Savea and Hosea Gear to audition for a repeat start next week and a reconnection time for Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu.

A team spine of new captain Read and Aaron Smith kicks into gear as Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu suit up for front row cohesion.

Then there are the subplots with first five-eighths Aaron Cruden ready to remind us he is the backup to Dan Carter and has a game which is suited to internationals as much as he dazzles in Super rugby.

"I suppose it is a little different," Cruden said. "In this team everyone knows their role and you are just expected to go and do your job and that's the same for me.

"But 10 has to be the director and lead the boys around the paddock and that is going to be a big focus for me."

He will be very familiar with men around him as he is shoehorned back into test rugby between his old Manawatu halfback buddy Smith and men like Nonu from his time with the Hurricanes.

There will be challenges for everyone, tasks they have been set and will be marked against. Those duties will vary and will carry individual and collective markers.

This test in Rome will be an occasion.

The ancient city offers many wondrous sights and the All Blacks have soaked those up.

It is their turn now to delight both regular and new patrons as Lazio and Roma do with their soccer.

- NZ Herald

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