Keven Mealamu can empathise with Wallabies
Keven Mealamu and Brodie Retallick are at either ends of the rugby spectrum. One knows what it's like not to hold the Bledisloe Cup, and the other is blissfully unaware of such a state of affairs.
It's fair to say that Mealamu is very much in the minority on that score, with the All Blacks having held the giant trophy that is a symbol of trans-Tasman footy supremacy for 11 years now.
The veteran hooker well remembers the days, back in 2003, when he and skipper Richie McCaw were part of an All Blacks outfit who reclaimed the Bledisloe after a worryingly long stint on the other side of the Tasman.
"There is real passion and drive to make sure we never experience life without it," Mealamu said yesterday after a training session very much tactically focussed. "Some of us haven't experienced losing it and we've got to make sure they don't."
It would be easy to be blasé about the Bledisloe if you're a young All Black. Almost expect that retention is a by-product of lacing up the boots and squeezing into the jumper.
But 23-year-old lock Brodie Retallick, who'll be smashing Wallabies from his spot in the All Black engine room on Saturday night, says that's definitely not the case.
"I don't think there's any complacency there at all," he said yesterday. "It means a lot to this team -- we talk about it as the next biggest thing behind the World Cup. It's always been won since I've been here and I'd like to keep it that way."
Mealamu said the passion that drives the Wallabies to end their 11-year drought is matched by the All Blacks to sustain a dominance they take great pride in.
"We understand where their hunger will be this year, because we can put ourselves in their shoes. But we're in the same boat. We're really keen to get our show back on the road as well, and I think there's going to be an even amount of excitement."
This will be Mealamu's 30th Bledisloe (he's won 22 of them, drawn one and lost six) and he has a fair idea of what's in store. "They're a smart rugby nation. Most tests I can remember have been at a high tempo with a good skill level. I don't expect anything different this week."
A revitalised Retallick also fully understands the desperation factor at play. "If you haven't had something for 11 years, every year that hunger is going to get more and more to want it back."
With Nonu out, who would you like to see paired with Conrad Smith in the All Blacks midfield?