Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks confident new rules will suit them

The All Blacks' northern rivals are about to lose their last hiding place - the slow ruck - and Steve Hansen's men are, not surprisingly, relishing the chance to expose them.

The tests against Scotland, Italy, Wales and England will be the first time the All Blacks have played under the new International Rugby Board rules - the most obvious of which will be the different scrum engagement calls and, most significantly, the five-second ruck law.

Both rules were used in the recent ITM Cup season and the matches sped up considerably as a result. The scrum call is now 'crouch, touch, set' rather than 'crouch, touch, pause, engage'. Under the ruck law, teams are allowed a maximum of five seconds with which to use the ball or concede a scrum.

The All Blacks are considered the fittest team in world rugby and any increased pace will suit them more than any other. They pride themselves on the way they finish games - although it didn't quite come off in their most recent encounter, the disappointing 18-18 draw against Australia two weeks ago.

It's unlikely any of their four northern countries will be able to stick with New Zealand in the second half of their matches.

"It will speed up their game, hopefully, because they like to slow the game down like that," flanker Sam Cane said of the opposition. "Hopefully that will work in our favour.

"I don't think it will affect us too much. Generally we like to play with a pretty high tempo and the ball doesn't sit at the base of our ruck for more than five seconds very often.

"I guess they will have to get organised around the ball. We pride ourselves on the fact that anyone can play halfback and, if the ball's available, we get rid of it. I guess they will have to adopt the philosophy a little bit."

No 8 Kieran Read said the northern teams could be adapting to that style anyway, but not all find it easy to change an ingrained mindset. This year Argentina tried to play with pace and width against the All Blacks in Buenos Aires and came a distant second after competing well in Wellington earlier in the Rugby Championship with a more conservative plan.

Cane, on his first northern tour, thought it would take time for the forwards to settle into the new scrum call cadence.

"Generally, with a bit of research, it's taken the guys two games to get their heads around it and get the timing right, but it's the same for everyone."

The 20-year-old won't be allowing himself the same luxury of easing himself into the tour. He quite rightly wants to make an immediate impact and is likely to be involved early as Richie McCaw is given a rest in either the Scotland or Italy match.

Cane has been forced to play a waiting game this year as he duelled with Tanerau Latimer for the Chiefs' No 7 jersey and has had even fewer opportunities behind McCaw at the All Blacks, but all that is about to change.

He has played three tests, including just one start, but will also be aware this is his chance to shine ahead of next year when McCaw will take his sabbatical during the three tests against France.

"When I get a shot, I have to take it," Cane agreed. "Whether that's a start or time off the bench, I have to make the most of it.

"I guess the biggest challenge for me is trying to keep fit each week. You can train all you like but match fitness is something different. The mind and body is very well because I haven't been playing much, so I'm definitely itching to get out there."

- APNZ

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