Rugby: More a training run than a test

By Wynne Gray

Here we go again. For the third successive Saturday, the All Blacks will pound a vulnerable opposition when they clobber Canada in Hamilton but today's test brings a merciful end to these uneven contests.

For now. However, after what shapes as a strenuous Tri-Nations series, the All Blacks will face more of this roadkill rugby at the World Cup when they play the inadequate Portugal and Romania.

Tonight's game will complete one of the most unfulfilling stages in recent All Black history, one to rival the 1997 season when the All Blacks started a domestic programme with a 71-5 win against Fiji, then 93-8 and 62-10 wins against Argentina.

A close challenger was the 2000 season when the All Blacks walloped Tonga 102-0, then cleaned Scotland's clock 69-20 and 48-14.

Test matches? In name only. The All Blacks excellence and France's decision this year to despatch their C team to New Zealand, mean these internationals have been more in tune with the Fieldays theme which is running through Hamilton.

Canada are just not equipped to deal with the All Blacks, not on the evidence of past matches and their recent 59-23 loss to the NZ Maori at the Churchill Cup.

Neither side are to blame. The All Blacks are dealing with an archaic IRB touring roster system while Canada have complied with those obligations.

If the weather allows, you can revel in the All Black skill level but sadists are usually the only people who have much affection for lopsided contests. This should be no more than an opposed training run for the All Blacks, better than nothing for sure, but a match where the coaching staff trust they avoid major injuries.

Those who attend should be commended. It may be their only chance to see the All Blacks up close this season, their children want to go, they have Canadian connections or they simply follow any game of rugby.

Canada will give it plenty, they will not lack any courage as anyone who has watched them will attest. But for those living outside Hamilton, this is surely not a test to keep them in front of the television or to even record the match instead of going out.

Enough said, all right, move on.

This will be a special night for John Schwalger and Ross Filipo who are making their All Black debuts. Schwalger knew he would get his chance once his name was read out in the All Black squad last month but Filipo was at long odds then to ever wear the senior black jersey.

They should not suffer stagefright as all the pack except Troy Flavell and recycled skipper Reuben Thorne have Wellington rugby connections.

This group must set the tone for the test, they need to be ruthless and if they dominate, the All Black backline will be dangerously expressive and way too forceful for the Canadians.

There is a timely appearance from first five-eighths Daniel Carter, on the comeback trail after damaging his ankle in the first test against France. This should be a great stage for him to recover his rhythm after what must have been the lowest key buildup he has ever experienced to a test.

Similar matchplay sentiments will follow for the rest of the backline where Doug Howlett gets a chance to add to his test tally before he joins Chris Jack on paternity leave while the rest of the squad leaves tomorrow for Durban and the start of their Tri-Nations series.

ALL BLACKS vs CANADA
Waikato Stadium, 7.30 tonight

ALL BLACKS
15. Mils Muliaina
14. Doug Howlett
13. Luke McAlister
12. Aaron Mauger
11. Sitiveni Sivivatu
10. Daniel Carter
9. Byron Kelleher
8. Jerry Collins
7. Chris Masoe
6. Reuben Thorne (c)
5. Ross Filipo
4. Troy Flavell
3. Neemia Tialata
2. Andrew Hore
1. John Schwalger

Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Carl Hayman, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw, Piri Weepu, Rico Gear, Leon MacDonald

CANADA
15. Mike Pyke
14. J. Mensah-Coker
13. Craig Culpan
12. David Spicer
11. James Pritchard
10. Ryan Smith
9. M. Williams (c)
8. S. Stephen
7. Stan McKeen
6. Colin Yukes
5. Mike Burak
4. Luke Tait
3. Scott Franklin
2. Pat Riordan
1. Kevin Tkachuk

Reserves: Carpenter, Dan Pletch, Mike Pletch, Josh Jackson, Adam Kleeberger, Dean Van Camp, Ed Fairhurst.

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