Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Retallick finds 'bulletproof' fitness recipe

Lock Brodie Retallick will play his 49th test for the All Blacks tonight. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Lock Brodie Retallick will play his 49th test for the All Blacks tonight. Photo / Brett Phibbs

As the normally robust Sam Whitelock returns from his hamstring injury to the All Blacks' starting line-up against Wales, the team's one constant in the pack, Brodie Retallick, just keeps on going.

Tonight's test at Westpac Stadium will be his 49th, and the 2.04m lock, who packs a freakish amount of athletic ability and handling skills into his long levers, has to think hard about the last time he missed a test through injury.

"Umm ... I think it was a couple of years ago in Christchurch when I hurt my hamstring midweek ... maybe against England," he said.

In fact, it was in 2013 in Christchurch ahead of the test against France, but the point is Retallick, still only 25, is virtually bulletproof despite the punishment he puts himself through.

The 2014 world player of the year has an uncanny ability to get through the tough stuff of clearing bodies and pushing in scrums, as well providing a pivot on attack; a giant splitpin who can change the focus of his team's offence through his big mitts and computer-like brain.

It's difficult to see any other lock in the world able to provide that sort of direction - with the exception of the fast-rising and very promising Englishman Maro Itoje (and a probable clash between the pair next year during the Lions series is looming), but Retallick is keen to improve individually and collectively in this second test.

He was part of a pack beaten too often at the breakdown by the Welsh at Eden Park through a slight sluggishness to adapt. The addition of the 2.07m tall Luke Charteris, Wales' midweek captain against the Chiefs, will also keep the All Blacks more honest in the lineout.

"It's one of the things we talked about in the review ... that we just got beaten at the breakdown and we were too slow," Retallick said. "If we get that little bit more accurate and get that half step quicker then hopefully we'll get cleaner ball for [halfback Aaron Smith].

"I guess it might have surprised us a wee bit with the amount of ball they did run in terms of the transition between attack and [defence], I think there may have been a little bit of rust - and [a surprise at] the speed at which test matches are played.

"There were probably a lot of fractures in our 'D' line that we were lucky they didn't catch on to but it's definitely something we need to be quicker on this week."

Most players don't like to talk about injury-free runs in case they tempt fate, but Retallick, who played three of his team's four World Cup pool matches last year, plus all three playoff matches, has clearly hit on the right recipe.

It's something Luke Romano, replaced by Whitelock, hasn't quite got right. Romano, who suffered a bad groin injury in 2013, and a broken ankle a year later, has had more than his fair share of issues.

"I guess a bit of luck, really," was Retallick's explanation. "Luke's had a couple of serious injuries over the last few years and I've been pretty lucky just to have the odd niggle."

- NZ Herald

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