All Blacks: Going to Christchurch after all?

By Gregor Paul

The All Blacks are keen on a training trip down south and other World Cup teams may join them. Photo / Chris Skelton
The All Blacks are keen on a training trip down south and other World Cup teams may join them. Photo / Chris Skelton

The All Blacks are hopeful they will still use Christchurch as a base during the World Cup despite the city losing its hosting rights.

Conscious they are no longer scheduled to appear in the South Island at all, the All Blacks want to train in Christchurch ahead of their September 24 Pool A clash against France at Eden Park.

The original draw had the winner and runner-up of Pool A playing a quarter-final in Christchurch - games now moved to Auckland, meaning the All Blacks could play five out of seven games at Eden Park if they make the final.

Being tied to one place for such a long period is not ideal as the national team want as much of the country as possible to see them train and play. They also want to be in Christchurch to provide an emotional boost for the people and keep them connected.

Of most concern to the team management is the final three weeks. One of the key findings that came out of the failed 2003 World Cup campaign was that the players struggled with the decision to spend the whole tournament - including preparation ahead of the Sydney semifinal- in Melbourne. Senior players felt the squad became bored and frustrated at being in the same surroundings for close to five weeks. A key plank of the 2007 campaign was to keep players on the move; regularly switching cities so no one became mentally stale.

The same thinking is part of the 2011 planning which is why team manager Darren Shand is working with the tournament organisers to see if anything can be done to help break the potential monotony of the final three weeks should the All Blacks make it that far. "We have identified that there is an issue [playing in the same venue for three consecutive weeks] and are working through it," says Shand.

The organisers have been supportive and sympathetic to the needs of those teams who have been directly affected by the loss of Christchurch.

One solution could be to allow the four Auckland quarter-finalists to stay in different hotels to those on offer for the semifinals and final.

That could also mean the All Blacks might stay out of Auckland - possibly somewhere close by - in the build-up to the quarter-final.

The other potential Auckland quarter-finalists are France (Pool A) and from Pool B England, Scotland and Argentina, who would also be offered accommodation different to that already booked for the semifinal.

The desire to prepare for the French clash in Christchurch is partly driven by a wish to reduce time in Auckland.

The key will be ensuring there are suitable training facilities that have come through the earthquake unscathed. Shand says they have already identified suitable accommodation.

The other attraction of training in Christchurch is that significant numbers of the likely squad are from the Garden City and it will give them the opportunity to spend time at home.

Yet, while there is a desire to reduce preparation time spent in Auckland, the All Blacks are quietly delighted to possibly play three consecutive games at Eden Park.

Their record at Eden Park is one of the most fearsome in world rugby and few international teams over the past 20 years have travelled to Auckland carrying any great hope of victory.

The All Blacks have not lost there since Jean-Luc Sadourny scored the try from the 'end of the earth' in 1994 to clinch a 23-20 victory for the French.

They drew with South Africa the following month but since then, the All Blacks have won 21 consecutive tests at Eden Park.

They have beaten Australia eight times, England three times, South Africa, Scotland and Ireland twice, Canada, the British Lions and France.

They have scored 87 tries for an average of more than four per game and have a points differential of 436, having scored 806 and conceded just 370.

The stadium has been a fortress for the All Blacks.

Playing five World Cup games there provides an opportunity for them to turn the mental screws further on their opponents.

Good wins against Tonga and France in the pool round, followed by an impressive quarter-final performance would send a clear message the All Blacks are close to impregnable at Eden Park.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks are hopeful of a South Island venue for their extra test to be played before the Tri Nations.

A test has provisionally been scheduled for Friday, July 22, with proceeds to be donated to the Christchurch earthquake appeal.

The All Blacks should announce the opponents this week but their preference is to play in the South Island. The opponents will likely be Fiji or Samoa.

- Herald on Sunday

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