ABs lock Retallick can't name English opponents
No disrespect intended, but it said it all yesterday when All Black lock Brodie Retallick was asked if he knew any of the England rugby players he'd be up against on Saturday.
"I know a couple," replied Retallick. Asked to name one, the 23-year-old Chiefs giant hesitated, before offering: "Michael Laws."
Of course Retallick meant Courtney Lawes, the highly regarded Northampton lock who's part of the second wave of players who land in New Zealand today after contesting the weekend's Premiership final back home, and won't play this Saturday.
Not Michael Laws, who's the outspoken former mayor of Wanganui and one-time radio talkback host.
It was perhaps mischievous of the nasty TV type to put Retallick on the spot, for we all know All Blacks are pretty internally-focused individuals who don't necessarily pay the closest attention to the identity of their rivals.
At least veteran midfielder Ma'a Nonu was a bit more on the ball when he was asked the same question.
"Manu Tuilagi ... we played him a couple of years ago when we lost in England. It should be a good battle," said Nonu with a gleam in his eye.
The reality is this is an inexperienced and unproven England lineup that will run out on Eden Park, missing important frontliners such as Lawes, Dylan Hartley, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton, Ben Foden, Billy Vunipola and Tom Wood who will all be available for Dunedin.
But given the frighteners Stuart Lancaster's England sides have put up the All Blacks in their last two meetings at Twickenham, the New Zealanders are well aware of the threat posed by the tourists.
They're hearing the names that are all out injured, or at least sitting out the first week. But that's balanced by a growing respect for a young English squad that plays hard, and with a lot more flair than so many of its predecessors.
"We're pretty wary of everyone really," Nonu added. "They played really well the last two years in terms of changing their game, and we're really looking forward to a good battle up front and their backs are real skilful."
Retallick might be sketchy on the names, but he recalls the imprint the English left over the last two Novembers.
"They've been physical and really took us on up front. I'm guessing they'll be doing the same. Everyone is expecting a massive match, as they've improved a lot over the last couple of years. It's going to be a real test match."
Meanwhile, Nonu offered conditional support for the All Blacks to bow to growing public pressure and finally play a test in the Pacific Islands, with Samoa the widely favoured destination.
"It would be special to play a game in Samoa - in all the islands probably. But that's not my area to talk about.
"It would be good from a player's point of view."
The 88-test veteran was less forthcoming on the prospect of a return to the Hurricanes under the new coaching duo of Chris Boyd and John Plumtree.
"I don't want to be rude but I'm trying to concentrate on the All Blacks building up for England, and we've only got five days to go. When Super Rugby starts maybe you can ask me then."
Who was the best-performed All Blacks forward on the northern tour?