Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Small numbers have the big job

Crouch, touch, pause engage.

The instructions are a bit naff, but the message is nirvana to the men with low numbers on their jerseys.

These are the primary rugby moments when the piano shifters go to work so the tap dancers can play to their tune in the wider spaces of Eden Park.

The All Black trio of Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Owen Franks have played in 176 tests while the Irish challenge from Cian Healy, Rory Best and Declan Fitzpatrick has a combined tally of 89 internationals.

More accurately, Healy and Best make up that number because today is Fitzpatrick's debut.

That is some heat, coming off a few games after a long layoff for a neck injury, replacing injured senior tighthead prop Mike Ross and squaring up against Woodcock.

The All Blacks are more fortunate. They have lost 92-times-capped Keven Mealamu to a calf injury but slide Maniatoto farmer Hore into combat for his 63rd international.

"We seem to be having turnabout doing this and Kev has had a frustrating old year but he'll be back soon," Hore said.

Hore has watched some clips on the Irish and in true front rowers' solidarity acknowledges the work and tricks they get up to.

"But hopefully Woody and I will get in there and get our own ball sorted out and try and disrupt some of theirs," Hore said.

The 33-year-old has noted that an old adversary, former All Black prop Greg Feek, was helping the Irish scrum and there looked to be some improvements.

Sides who played in Europe were scrum devotees, they loved the arm-wrestle platform to produce field position or tactical advantages in grinding matches.

Hore knew little about Fitzpatrick but he would be keen to make a statement about his international pedigree so, where possible, the All Blacks would give his CV a decent warrant of fitness.

Ireland's front row was compact, technical and connected and would be a tough unit to unsettle.

"A good mate of mine is mates with the Bests and he's got a bet on, that we'll have a win, so we'll see how that goes," Hore said. "We'll see how we go during the game and see if we can get a bit of chat out of them during the test."

Hore said his conversational style was a way of switching off and on again.

"If I can have a chat and they do too then perhaps they are not quite on the money. Usually you have mates in the other side and it's always good to hear what's going on. Woody is always good for a bit of banter but the Franks boys haven't cottoned on to chatting away - they'd rather push or squat - but they'll learn."

Hore reckoned it was easy to tell how he and his front rowers were playing by his chat levels.

There were times to have a chat to referee Nigel Owens too, it was just part of the game.

The tone for the first test of the season began with the men wearing numbers one, two and three on their jerseys.

"It certainly does and you can chuck four and five in there as well," Hore added. "People who know their rugby have been saying that since the game started. If we get our boys good ball and front-foot ball then they are pretty dangerous."

New coaches and new players had given the All Blacks a different impetus after the World Cup.

For some time Hore did not think about test rugby beyond that triumph, but thought if he played Super 15 he was ready for anything else.

He and Mealamu were well into their 30s but must still be doing something right to hold out the younger rivals.

"The All Blacks is all about the best players keeping their places so perhaps there is a bit in us yet. Kevvie and I are keen to keep doing this for a while."

Mealamu is signed up for next season and Hore wants to get pen to paper once again as well.

"It is a very hard thing to walk away from if you are still enjoying it."

At the Highlanders, his endurance is helped by job-sharing with Jason Rutledge.

"That 'Cabbage' is a great man and I see he is captain of the South team as well.

"It has been a great change for me down there and given me a new burst."

- NZ Herald

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a5 at 22 Sep 2014 20:03:49 Processing Time: 788ms