Sat, Jul 05, 2003 - Page 18 News List

All Blacks regroup ahead of Tri-nations selection

REUTERS , AUCKLAND

Most international rugby union fans would consider an attacking lineout a few meters from their opponent's line a better than even chance of scoring points.

Except New Zealand's.

Time and time again in recent seasons the All Blacks, who announce their squad for the Tri-nations tomorrow, have had their own throw pinched by the opposition, often in crucial situations.

Most memorable was during a Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in 2000 when Wallabies captain John Eales kicked for touch knowing his side could steal the lineouts and then get close enough for a chance to try to snatch the win.

They did, and Eales himself slotted a penalty from wide out to give the Wallabies a 24-23 victory that retained the Bledisloe Cup.

The problem reared its head again last week in the All Blacks 31-23 victory over France when an inexperienced French pack stole five of New Zealand's lineout throws.

Not that the fans or commentators are the only groups noticing the problem. The players now recognize it as well.

"Our lineout problems come from a combination of the throw and the timing of the jumper," said reserve hooker Keven Mealamu. "We practise it a lot, of course, but you can't practise it with the opposition.

"The French were good. We only had to be out fractionally and they grabbed it.

"The spotlight is on the hooker at that time, but it's often not our fault."

It is, however, still one area All Blacks coach John Mitchell must improve if his side continue their "building blocks" on the "journey" to the World Cup later this year in Australia.

Mitchell's journey takes a step closer this weekend when he names his squad for the Tri-nations ahead of their opening match against South Africa in Pretoria on July 19.

The coach said he wanted to use the series against Australia and the Springboks to address other areas highlighted in last month's 15-13 loss to England and close victory over France.

Both opponents succeeded in slowing the game down and Mitchell said that would need to be examined, as would creating more scoring opportunities, something the more open style of play in the Tri-nations should allow him to do.

Canterbury fullback Ben Blair is expected to be recalled to the squad after a shoulder injury kept him out of Super 12, possibly at the expense of provincial team mate Leon MacDonald who has suffered numerous concussions.

Otago lock Simon Maling, a noted ball-winner, is back from injury and may push Ali Williams for a spot.

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