Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Smith and Jane are masters on the field

Throw Cory Jane and Conrad Smith into a crowded room and you would not be blown away by their physical presence.

People without any detailed knowledge of the All Blacks would deliver very quizzical looks if you mentioned they were two of the champion rugby squad.

An unlikely pair perhaps but in tandem, two of the sharpest dudes on the circuit.

They are some distance apart in their upbringing, education and interests but when they are in the All Black circle and pull on the famed black jersey, they are candy and wrapper.

Neither brings a wow-factor physique to their profession.

They have put on weight and honed their frames to withstand the physical battering which is standard fare in top-class rugby but they are schnitzel among some of the eye fillet backs.

Both bring instincts test rugby coaches dream about. They turn up in the right places much of the time and sense chances or danger with unerring radar.

Offer them chances with the ball and you back them to make the right choices, while on defence, they are able to marshall troops or chop down an attack themselves.

Big men prevail in test rugby now but those with slighter torsos can compete if they have the courage and conviction needed to go to the next level.

Jane is an extrovert with a deadpan wit, a bloke born to perform on the sporting stage where his confidence overflows into performance. His array of skills is broad after repeated work buffing the edges to his play.

Give me the ball let me create, would be his refrain.

At centre Smith is the organiser, the sort of bloke you suspect would take time after training or matches to note down details or ideas he wanted to assess later.

Methodical, clever, unruffled but demanding, Smith has V8 willpower nestled close to his sporting computer, concealed within his normal frame.

Rather than be put off or burdened by a raft of business and personal commitments away from the rugby field this week, Smith acknowledged how those can help in the last week on tour.

"It's better than being stuck somewhere where you don't have a lot to do," he said. "It keeps your mind off the game and when you play a team like England it is easy to make sure everyone focuses on the game and normally it means it's a good week."

Injury updates gave no clearer idea about whether Daniel Carter, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Beauden Barrett and others would be fit to play this weekend.

The All Blacks were pitching this test as another opportunity to showcase their talents rather than it being the curtain-closer on their season.

They are determined to send captain Richie McCaw away on his sabbatical with a vibrant memory about his team. They know McCaw will not want any fuss made about his exit so a sporting keepsake will be their target.

"We'd love to finish this tour playing the type of rugby we have been playing and we'd like to play it for a bit longer in an 80-minute game," assistant coach Ian Foster said.

England had shown signs about expanding their game and if the weather held, then Twickenham would offer that stage.

- NZ Herald

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