Irish scrum coach Feek knows plenty about All Blacks
Greg Feek knows enough about the All Blacks and their coaches Steve Hansen, Aussie McLean and Mike Cron to provide his Irish forward pack with plenty of perspective ahead of Saturday night's test series-opener in Auckland.
Feek, a 10-test All Black from 1999 to 2001, is into his third year as Ireland's scrum coach, a job that bookends the same work with Leinster, where he has helped the famous Dublin side to two Heineken Cup titles.
The loosehead prop's rugby roots were in Taranaki before he headed south to Christchurch to hook up with Canterbury and the Crusaders. Five Super Rugby titles, two NPC titles and twice lifting the Ranfurly Shield were among his spoils as well as tutelage from Hansen, McLean and Cron, who were also involved in the red-and-black scene.
Hansen has gone on to be head coach of the All Blacks, bringing McLean with him, and Cron has firmly established himself as the global guru of scrum coaching.
Feek is making his own strides in a tracksuit.
There's no lack of respect for either the New Zealand coaches or the All Blacks scrum, but yesterday Feek made it clear that his focus had to be purely on the green machine, particularly heading into the first test of three.
"Everyone knows what the All Blacks' scrum can do, but we have to play our game and treat it like we are playing any other country," the 36-year-old said.
"We respect that they are the world champions but it's heads down, arses up and get on with your job from our point of view.
"Yes, knowing your enemy is important, but you have to get your own ship in order first."
That might be easier said than done because the order in the Irish pack has been upset by injuries.
Feek's engine room will be missing the big motors of senior lock Paul O'Connell and prop Tom Court, who were left at home injured. They are also likely to be without the services of tighthead prop Mike Ross, whose hamstring struggles make him increasingly doubtful for Saturday.
That will probably see uncapped Declan Fitzpatrick get a test debut against All Blacks iron-man Tony Woodcock.
When pressed, Feek was happy to admit that his scrum faced "a massive task".
"But at the end of it I think we will get a lot out of it as well. It's exciting the challenges of rugby to go up against Woody, Horey and Owen Franks, that's a great opportunity," he said of his new-look front row.
"As we go forward we need to grow other guys. As a scrum that's not a matter of weeks or months, it can be a few years."
Feek learnt that himself in the hothouse of New Zealand provincial rugby and he has cleverly used it to his advantage offshore. Short of being on the All Blacks coaching staff, you sense he's living his dream earning his stripes in Europe, where forward play and scrum work are so respected.
"I feel like I'm busier than when I was playing, but it's a good feeling. I'm lucky to be involved with this [Irish] team and Leinster. I'm lucky to be living in Dublin in Europe and seeing the world with the job I do."
Feek keeps up to speed with his old Crusaders outfit courtesy of solid Super Rugby TV coverage up north.
From his viewing he believes New Zealand and Australian teams "have good technical things going on in the scrum" and he put a lot of that down to the detailed work that referees were putting in tidying up this area of the game.
Feek wasn't surprised to see 20-year-old Chiefs prop Ben Tameifuna elevated to the All Blacks so early with the 134kg tighthead called up from his first taste of Super Rugby.
"He's a big boy," Feek said. "I don't know if he'll play but he's going to learn an awful lot over the next few weeks and he will be a better player come July.
"Getting some young guys in and getting them alongside more experienced guys – rubbing shoulders with them, rooming with them and downloading all those things, it's smart."
Feek played Ireland once in his test career, coming on his last overseas tour in 2001, enjoying a 40-29 win in Dublin.
Ironically his first coaching job with Ireland was against the All Blacks in the last test the two old enemies played at Lansdowne Road in 2010, with New Zealand winning 38-18.
Feek is predicting a lively encounter at Eden Park, no matter what the weather throws up.
"We like to throw the ball around and have a crack but we'll roll our sleeves up and get in the trenches, too," he said.
"Either way, the boys are ready for it."