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Latimer Learns From Henry's Halftime Blast

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Tanerau Latimer
Tanerau Latimer

By Mark Geenty of NZPA

Milan, Nov 12 NZPA - Returning All Blacks rugby flanker Tanerau Latimer still talks about Graham Henry's halftime blast in Christchurch in hushed tones.

Ask for a censored version and there's not much to offer.

That was the last of Latimer's three tests, the 27-6 win over Italy in June when Henry delivered a verbal halftime lashing, questioning in no uncertain terms his players' commitment to the All Blacks jersey.

As captain Richie McCaw returned and Latimer was sent back to club rugby and the Air NZ Cup for Bay of Plenty, his test future remained uncertain as the likes of Hawke's Bay's Karl Lowe put their hands up to be McCaw's deputy.

"I wasn't overly confident, it was more fingers crossed. I hadn't played very well in that June test and hadn't had much rugby," Latimer told NZPA.

"That NPC when I got back was an opportunity to show what I'd been working on in the Tri-Nations. It was all little steps from there.

"I know there was a lot of pressure on to try and retain the spot and I was very pleased once I got it. I set a goal to just learn as much as I could."

He and fellow Chiefs flanker Liam Messam -- who also plays his first test since June against Italy here on Sunday (NZT) -- were given the dreaded list of "work-ons" by the coaches.

A mobile loosie and excellent breakdown scavenger, the 1.86m, 101kg Latimer was told his tackle technique needed work to keep pace with the big boys in an increasingly physical test environment.

"Just becoming a more aggressive tackler. At the moment I wrap tackle, try to get a bit lower and force guys back a bit."

With the help of computer analysis and replays he worked overtime on his defence and got the payback when he made the squad, along with a few bolters like his Bay of Plenty teammate Mike Delany.

Delany will play first five-eighth on Sunday in a radically revamped All Blacks side full of players needing to prove a point to the coaches for next season and beyond.

Said Latimer: "I guess he's over the moon about it but at the same time he's really nervous. On the way to training he's asking all the boys all the moves and 'what if I do this', so we're just saying 'settle down and just play your game'."

The Bay connection between Latimer and Delany will be important, particularly on defence where Latimer believes they may be targeted by Italy pivot Craig Gower.

He had faith in Delany as a strong defender, with Messam and skipper Rodney So'oialo as backup.

"We're fine. I've played a lot with Mike. the main thing is we'll tell each other what we expect from each other.

"That's where most teams like to attack. From set piece that could potentially be a weakest point where teams get through.

"We've got Rodders who's played 60-odd tests and then Liam who I've played with as well. I know those guys will be there, inside and outside me."

Latimer insists the nerves aren't too bad as he prepares to clunk heads with Italy's veteran Stade Francais flanker Mauro Bergamasco at the breakdown.

With McCaw's backup spot there for the taking, Latimer knows there's this and probably one more chance to impress on tour against the Barbarians on December 6.

"This is an opportunity to show that, if they do need a No 2 behind Richie. I haven't shown that I'm up to that calibre yet. I know that so this weekend is a chance.

"Every opportunity you get you've got to take. I'm pretty relaxed mate, I can't wait."

NZPA

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