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All Blacks Get Green Carpet Treatment At Harrow

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

London, Dec 2 NZPA - In historic, leafy surrounds where Winston Churchill spent his formative years, it was all so delightfully English for the All Blacks today. Harrow School, established 1572, hosted the tourists in their first training run of the Barbarians week as coach Graham Henry named a second-string rugby side - bar captain Richie McCaw and wing-turned fullback Cory Jane. Eighteen rugby fields stretched as far as the eye could see, with Wembley Stadium on the distant horizon. But it was the main field where the Harrow first 15 slug it out with major rivals Eton - one of just six rugby matches played on the hallowed turf all year - that had All Black eyes agape. The school's rugby master proudly told of it being voted last year in the top-three playing surfaces in Britain, including premiership football grounds. This year, he'd been told, they were in the running to be named No 1. So the All Blacks trained on impeccable carpet-like grass, encircled by a top-quality athletics track, as some of the 800-strong roll clutched their boater hats and watched in awe from the grass hill. It's worth stg28,000 ($NZ64,600) in annual tuition fees to send your boy here, not including kit and overseas tours. Fittingly, the All Blacks trained impressively as Henry's lineup contained several talking points ahead of Sunday's (3.30am NZT) match against a star-studded Barbarians at Twickenham. Stephen Donald was rewarded with his first start of the six-week tour at first five-eighth, a minor surprise after Mike Delany was given the No 10 jersey on his test debut against Italy in Milan last month. But with Dan Carter getting a well-earned rest, Henry said Delany would still get his chance to shine against Wallabies pivot Matt Giteau. "They'll both get as much game time as possible. They'll share the game time unless we have injury and have to play one of them elsewhere," Henry said. "We'd like to give everyone as many opportunities as possible but we're governed by the number of games we've got on tour. Mike will get plenty of opportunity in this game." Those given a rest for the final week were Carter, Mils Muliaina, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino, Tom Donnelly, Tony Woodcock and Owen Franks. But McCaw, who played for the Barbarians in their narrow loss to the Wallabies a year ago, was handed a third consecutive start after bruising encounters against England and France. "His leadership is very important and we've recognised that. The team would be best if he leads them for this big occasion," Henry said. It also signifies the quality of the Barbarians lineup, with Welshmen Jamie Roberts, Andy Powell and Leigh Halfpenny the only players from the home unions in the Barbarians 22 packed with Springboks and Wallabies. Their key men are Springboks stars Victor Matfield, Fourie du Preez and Bryan Habana, Wallabies Matt Giteau, Rocky Elsom and George Smith, and 60-test All Blacks winger Joe Rokocoko who will mark 20-year-old Zac Guildford. Henry said it was a great opportunity for a number of inexperienced players in the squad to keep their names in lights heading into the summer break. The All Blacks would enter into the spirit of the Barbarians fixture and he said last weekend's outstanding 39-12 win over France was the benchmark. "It takes two sides to play that sort of football and the French certainly tried to play an attacking style, and I'd assume that's what the Barbarians will do so it should be a classic. "We played pretty well last week, if we could do that every week we'd be happy." NZPA SYD mg cw

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