Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Flexibility a new buzzword for the All Blacks

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith on attack against Argentina. Photo / Mark Mitchell
All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith on attack against Argentina. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Professional rugby players are creatures of habit but the All Blacks will have to quickly learn to be flexible in Argentina next week.

The routines most dear to their hearts and stomachs are the plentiful meals provided three or (usually) more times a day while on tour - and one of the things they will have to get used to in Buenos Aires is that most restaurants don't open until 10pm.

The other, which goes hand-in-hand with late dining, is a relaxed attitude among the locals, a philosophy based around "manana", Spanish for "tomorrow", as in: why do something now when it could be postponed to another day?

All Blacks manager Darren Shand, for one, isn't expecting things to go to plan ahead of their Rugby Championship match at Ciudad de La Plata Stadium near Buenos Aires next weekend. The All Blacks depart Auckland for the city on Saturday night.

"It's more about understanding what you're going into. A Spanish [speaking] country is very different to our way and I guess it's having empathy for a completely different environment," he said. "Things will operate completely differently. 'Manana' is alive and well in Buenos Aires and we just have to be prepared for that."

Staving off hunger is one thing to be prepared for. After all, not many visitors to Buenos Aires want to eat in their hotel every night. "I've been trying to book some restaurants for about 7 o'clock and they all say we don't open till 10," Shand said.

But while food is usually high on a rugby player's agenda, so is avoiding boredom, which is unlikely to be an issue on this road less travelled, a welcome diversion from regular haunts in South Africa and Australia.

Shand, who was with the All Blacks on their last trip to Argentina, in 2006, confirmed the players would be free to walk the streets and take in the sights. Reports suggested security wasn't likely to be an issue but the usual precautions would have to be taken, he said.

Shand returned to the city this year to scout out training facilities in preparation for trip. Perhaps, luckily for him and the team, one has been found only recently thanks to an expat New Zealander, a deputy principal at a private school in the city who made contact with Shand through the New Zealand Embassy.

"I didn't get to see it the last time I was there but I will be there a couple of days before the players so I'll be able to check it out then. But from the pictures I've seen it looks a lot better than anything I saw in two days of driving around Buenos Aires."

Dan Carter's calf problem, which has kept him out of the last two tests, is the only injury worry for coach Steve Hansen. If Carter travels, and Hansen expects him to, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett will back him up as first-five, with one of the five props in the squad likely to miss out.

Rugby Championship

All Blacks v Argentina
September 29, La Plata.

- APNZ

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