as the all blacks head north, the press is remarkably quiet   1 Nov 2005

writes Nathan Burdon

The UK might be buzzing with the arrival of the All Blacks and the hype over the Brian O’Driscoll tackle, but back at home the party is still getting started. Expect that to change this week as the New Zealand media outlets crank up their coverage ahead of the first test against Wales, but so far it’s been a bit of a yawn and a shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe we are a bit rugbyed out after a massive year, which included the Lions series, Tri-Nations redemption and the retention of the Bledisloe Cup.

It’s been a feast of rugby success under Henry, Hansen and Smith – seven wins from eight outings, including that 3-0 sweep over the Lions. Perhaps the apparent ease with which Tana’s men dispatched the pride of the UK and Ireland during that series has given people the false hope that the march to a rare Grand Slam is a fait accompli.

Do we even understand the Grand Slam?

I have just turned 30 and I was only three years old the last time the All Blacks beat the four Home Unions during the same tour. Sure the opportunity doesn’t come around very often, but it still remains the only time the All Blacks have accomplished the feat in a century of European tours.

While the final test against Scotland is likely to be the least of the tourists’ concerns, the other three tests are likely to be tight and testy affairs – Wales and Ireland in particular.

The clash against the Welsh will mark 100 years since the infamous Deans non-try, while the Irish will be baying for blood over the O’Driscoll affair. The All Black touring party of 35 raised a few eyebrows, not the least of which was the selection of only one specialist openside flanker in vice captain Richie McCaw.

Given his world-class abilities, he will be as closely marked as any New Zealand player – let’s not put too fine a point on it, the opposition will try to smash him out of the game – and to not have specialist cover seems a bizarre decision.

Taranaki’s Chris Masoe is a bitsy player, not quite enough of anything to dominate one position. The redeeming factor is that the UK lacks quality No 7s. Despite having a season to savour, All Black fans will desperately want their team to come home victorious. It’s a tough assessment that despite their other achievements, a failed Grand Slam attempt will be a rock in the shoe for the players as they head into summer.

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