Illness adds to challenges facing All Blacks

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 06:56 30/11/2012
Julian Savea
Getty Images
ASSAULT CHARGE: All Blacks and Hurricanes winger Julian Savea.

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Just 48 hours before the final test of an arduous season, almost all of the All Blacks have been struck down by sickness.

Only two members of the extended 34-man playing squad escaped the potentially debilitating bug which first swept through the team in Cardiff last week.

Lock Luke Romano, who is on the bench this weekend at Twickenham, is still struggling and did not train today, but is expected to recover.

All Blacks management haven't been spared and even Canterbury first five-eighth Tom Taylor, who joined the team in London as injury cover, caught the contagious diarrhoea and vomiting symptoms.

The illness is another challenge facing the All Blacks as they approach their 14th and final test of the year on Sunday (NZT).

Coach Steve Hansen already had to deal with Andrew Hore's suspension distraction, wide-spread fatigue and injury concerns, though star pivot Dan Carter, hooker Keven Mealamu and prop Tony Woodcock all came through training unscathed today.

"It's been a difficult week with a lot of people being sick," Hansen revealed. "We've had guys go down with diarrhoea and vomiting. There's only two that have missed out. Just getting that mix right has been difficult. Hopefully we've been smart enough to keep the energy tank full."

In private Hansen may have reservations about the influence of the fast-spreading sickness, but he put on a brave face and didn't let it affect his sense of humour.

"Apparently half of the UK has got it. Hang around here long enough and we'll give it to you," he joked to media.

Instead of soaking up the sights of London, most players spent the majority of their day off yesterday hugging the hotel toilets.

"Personally I'm feeling a lot better today. I know the boys had a good guided tour of their bathrooms yesterday on their day off. I think there was a good number. That's just the way it was," All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read explained. "I think it's a 24 hour thing. I haven't seen everyone today."

The sickness shouldn't be anything like the "Suzie the waitress" food poising that ripped through Laurie Mains' All Blacks before the 1995 World Cup final.

Read downplayed concerns it could expend depleted energy levels.

"I wouldn't think so. It's just something you have to handle. We'll be right for Saturday," he said.

Replacement hooker Hika Elliot and wing Julian Savea were the only members of the team not to be affected.

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"I was fortunate enough to not be sick. I was enjoying my day off," Savea chuckled thankfully.

Meanwhile, England coach Stuart Lancaster has backed Owen Farrell to replace injured first five-eighth Toby Flood in the only starting change to his team that lost by one point to the Springboks last week.

"He's got huge qualities. He's got big game-temperament. It's a quality that's important in the international game," Lancaster said of Farrell, who was nominated for the IRB player of the year award. "He's excited because he wants to challenge himself against the best. He's got no better opportunity to have a benchmark."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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