Randell: All Blacks camp is counter-productive

TAINE RANDELL
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2013
Ben Afeaki
Getty Images
BAD LUCK: Ben Afeaki missed the game against the Crusaders due to a calf injury suffered at the All Blacks training camp.

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OPINION: What a shame New Zealand's two best tighthead props, Owen Franks and Ben Afeaki, had to miss the top-of-the-conference Super Rugby clash in Hamilton.

And what a pity that came about because of the All Blacks wider training squad camp in Mt Maunganui, where Franks injured a hamstring and Afeaki tweaked a calf.

The folly of having that camp in the leadup to the biggest game of the New Zealand season came back to bite both the Crusaders and Chiefs.

That simply shouldn't have happened.

Nor should the All Blacks training camp, which will be repeated for the next three days at the same venue, ahead of big matches for four New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises.

The All Blacks management have made much of justifying these camps over the past week or two, saying they need to get new players up to speed with their methods, and invigorate some of the older hands, many of whom have been in sluggish form this year.

They also say it's crucial to their planning for the looming three tests against France. I'd suggest they will have more time with their players than the French.

To me, it reeks of the All Blacks coaches having to justify their positions. They are clearly itching to get their tracksuits on.

It seems hypocritical for Steve Hansen to be talking one week with concern about top players getting too much rugby and then crowding these camps into one of the most crucial periods of the Super season.

It flies against the argument of keeping players fresh - and to have 38 players involved is overkill.

I've long maintained that many injuries are caused by over-training, and that could be the case here with Franks and Afeaki.

If they were fit and available, they could certainly have added to what was a pretty good game of rugby in Hamilton on Friday night, where the Chiefs held their nerve for a very clever victory.

These are clearly the best two New Zealand teams.

I've made a couple of calls in the past few weeks, talking up the Crusaders.

I won't back away from that. They have the best players, but I think the Chiefs have the best coaches, and in the end that was the difference in this gripping match.

The Chiefs came up with a cunning plan to combat anything the Crusaders could offer.

Their defence was resolute and the amount of pressure they applied to Dan Carter, especially his kicking game, was instrumental in seeing off the Crusaders. The resolve of the Chiefs for that long period after halftime, when they were camped in their own 22, was quite remarkable.

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That the Crusaders were unable to find a way through was telling.

For virtually the entire game the Crusaders were made to look like they had no penetration.

Historically they have been able to run the ball either through their forwards or their backs. But in this match they were reduced to trying to maul their way over the line. That said it all.

There's been a bit of consternation over the New Zealand Super Rugby effort this season, especially given the rise of some of the Australian teams and the consistency of the South African sides.

The quality of the Chiefs v Crusaders match will have eased those fears a little bit, though I wouldn't go as far as to rate it a great match.

It was a tense affair and that added to the drama. But there were still a lot of handling mistakes and it reinforced that, even on a good night in winter here, there is a need for more covered stadiums.

- Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- Sunday News

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