Home town All Whites tie sparks Nelsen

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 15/10/2012
Ryan Nelsen
DEAN KOZANIC/Fairfax NZ

MUTUAL ADMIRATION: All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen, left, and All Blacks centre Conrad Smith exchange pleasantries at Christchurch Airport yesterday.

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All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen has declared himself fit and raring to go for his first international in home town Christchurch tomorrow and the All Blacks couldn't be happier about that.

The All Whites arrived at Christchurch yesterday afternoon after their 2-0 World Cup qualifying group win over Tahiti and Papeete and ran smack bang into the All Blacks bound for a pre-Bledisloe Cup training camp here.

Nelsen chewed the fat with another of Canterbury's favourite sporting sons, Dan Carter, and said later they had met several times over the years because their mothers know each other.

All Blacks centre Conrad Smith, an avowed Wellington Phoenix fan, stopped to shake Nelsen's hand and say "well done" and wish him the best for tomorrow night's rematch against Tahiti at AMI Stadium.

Ma'a Nonu posed for a photograph with Nelsen and he and wing Hosea Gear had a chat with All Whites and Wellington Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert.

Nelsen, who has not played in Christchurch for "pushing 15 years", said it was "absolutely brilliant" to be home. He declared the knee niggle, which forced him to miss the Papeete game, wouldn't stop him leading the All Whites out in Christchurch.

"I'll be fine for the game, it's just the repercussions after that the club is worried about and I suppose I should be a bit more worried about. But it's the Christchurch game."

Nelsen is renowned for clutching the silver fern on his shirt and kissing the badge during the national anthem. He said he won't know until he runs out the AMI Stadium tunnel, but the Queen's Park Rangers centreback "thinks it will be [an emotional moment]. Especially now, when you get to the end of your career, you cherish little memories more because it ends pretty soon.

"I think something like this will be very special. I've got a lot of pressure, I'd better not have a stinker in front of everybody."

Nelsen has been the poster boy for the Tahiti game with his photograph adorning billboards around the city. He seemed a little embarrassed at the attention. "There's a lot better looking guys on the team than me, so that's probably a bad marketing plan," he quipped.

It'll be a whistlestop trip for Nelsen, who won't get to celebrate his 35th birthday on Thursday in Christchurch. "I have to fly straight back on Wednesday. Obviously, we've got a massive game [against third-placed Everton on Monday] when we get back. The club's under huge amounts of pressure, so's the manager and all the players."

Nelsen and English premier league colleague Winston Reid from West Ham United rested in Auckland over the weekend before joining the All Whites party on their return from Tahiti yesterday morning. Reid suffered back spasms during the Hammers' last EPL game against Arsenal last week.

Herbert was upbeat yesterday about Nelsen and Reid's chances of bolstering the All Whites' backline.

Nelsen said his niggly knee "wasn't great after the West Brom game" last week. "But it is what it is. It's not an 18-year-old knee any more, it needs a bit more maintenance now."

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QPR manager Mark Hughes, who gave Nelsen his first EPL contract at Blackburn Rovers in 2005, was not overjoyed about his defensive linchpin returning Down Under.

Nelsen joked he had been "too scared" to contact Hughes since arriving in New Zealand.

"I just pray I don't get injured [tomorrow] or I think I'll have to stay in Christchurch, they'll rip up my contract," he joked. "I don't think [Hughes] will talk to me until I'm fully fit and available again."

QPR had five defenders, "who could potentially be starting" out injured so Hughes' anxiety is understandable."

"The oldest and most crippled, myself, is the only one that's been injury-free. It's been really tough," Nelsen said.

Nelsen said the game in Tahiti "was a real grind" with "the refereeing standard bordering on abysmal" and the Tommy Smith-captained team "did really well" to secure an away win.

"Tuesday will be really similar, it'll be a really hard game. They're probably out of it now for the World Cup qualifiers and they will be totally focusing on the [2013] Confederations Cup finals."

- The Press

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