Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Mealamu set to rest and repair

Keven Mealamu far from done in his 101-test match career but is getting exasperated with the calf muscle injuries which have blighted his season. Photo / Getty Images
Keven Mealamu far from done in his 101-test match career but is getting exasperated with the calf muscle injuries which have blighted his season. Photo / Getty Images

The summer is an inviting thought for All Black hooker Keven Mealamu and also a time to re-think some of his training strategies to extend his career.

He's keen to get team physio Peter Gallagher, muscle therapist George Duncan and the Blues medics together to sort out some revised training plans to help his ageing legs and his recurring calf injuries.

As long as there's not too much swimming, Mealamu will be happy. Like many of his Polynesian buddies, he reckons he swims at a 45-degree angle to the surface. In his season with the Chiefs they did triathlon training and, when he went in the water, Mealamu reckoned he "spent most of my summer drowning".

He's far from done in his 101-test match career but is getting exasperated with the calf muscle injuries which have blighted his season. They bring him power and agility when he squirts off on one of his low-centre-of-gravity runs and anchor him in the scrum - but those pistons have not been as reliable as usual.

They interrupted his work in a wretched Blues year and last week the chunky 33-year-old was forced off the Stadio Olimpico against Italy because of a strain. Mealamu had a crack at training early this week to see if he could play Wales but afterwards when he sat down with coach Steve Hansen, it became clear what he should do. Hansen wanted Mealamu to finish the season strongly and that best chance was to have further rest and treatment to see if he could play against England.

"I did some damage earlier in the season. I'd say it is a bit of age but also the way I like to play the game. It will be something I will be looking into in the off-season to try and see if I can find some ways for prevention."

On this tour Mealamu and Andrew Hore have been watching the work of Dane Coles, plucked from Hurricanes and Wellington duty to be the third hooker in the squad.

Hore is 34, Mealamu 33, while the fresh-faced Coles turns 26 in December. There is a bit of room there to tune some areas of his game as the All Black staff, scrum guru Mike Cron and two seasoned hookers help out. At times Corey Flynn has had a run with the All Blacks, while John Afoa, Aled de Malmanche and Hika Elliot were also capped.

None lasted the distance. Now it is Coles under scrutiny while a clutch of up-and-comers at home must give themselves a chance.

"I think we are in pretty good hands with the quality and amount of hookers around," Mealamu said. "The last month I have spent with Dane, he is a real humble guy, a guy who picks up things quick and I think he is one to watch out for in the future and even now. It is not about giving him too much information. It is perhaps settling on one thing that he can go away and work on.

"With too much information, you get almost nothing out of it. I think one thing is better for him to work on then you get so much more improvement. He is a hard worker and the progress will come."

Mealamu learned a great deal from Anton Oliver in his All Black career while Mark Hammett was also great in sharing his expertise. Both Mealamu and Hore were mindful they had to give as much guidance as they could to the next batch of hookers so the All Blacks continued to keep their standards.

There are Super Rugby contenders such as Quentin MacDonald, who is heading to the Blues. Mealamu liked his game and was keen to put it under closer inspection. Another Blues man, James Parsons, had shown some grit in what was a tough ITM season for him at North Harbour. He appeared to have an all-round game, was a strong runner and had a thirst to improve.

Tack on men like Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor at the Crusaders and the list of talent was rising. "From a personal point of view, I think the rising group of hookers is something Horey and I have noticed and it will push us hard to try and stay in front.

"When the day comes when we can't compete any more, that will be it ... but we both like to think we still have a few tricks up our sleeves to keep going at All Black level."

- Herald on Sunday

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