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Mick Still Kicking The All Blacks Into Shape

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Mick Still Kicking The All Blacks Into Shape

By Chris Barclay of NZPA

Auckland, July 14 NZPA - Mick Byrne still get his kicks with the All Blacks, despite joining former international John Kirwan on Japan's coaching staff for the 2011 rugby World Cup.

Byrne was back at All Blacks training at Eden Park here today, continuing an advisory role he held on a fulltime basis until transferring to the Japan Rugby Union in April.

The Australian-born skills coach is still available to the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) for 50 days a season, and it is time well spent, according to assistant coach Wayne Smith.

Byrne, who joined the NZRU in 2005, is still seen as an integral member of the coaching staff, particularly as the game's changing laws have made kick receptions and returns vitally important.

"Possession from receiving kicks is now the biggest possession platform in the game, bigger than scrums and lineouts," Smith said.

"You need players adept at taking the high ball both as a chaser and receiver."

Those qualities will be essential when New Zealand play the Wallabies in the Tri-Nations/Bledisloe Cup test here on Saturday, which explains Byrne's presence this week.

Matt Giteau, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper will be punting frequently so the All Blacks back three have been designated extra catching practice.

"It's an ongoing project," Smith said.

"We've been quite lucky Mick's still able to do some jobs for us when we need him."

Expanding the backline's kicking armoury is also a priority because the All Blacks do not have the same number of genuine options available to them as the Australians.

"It (kicking) is not something we've paid a lot of attention to at grass roots," Smith said.

"We're a running rugby nation but now the landscape has changed and kicking has become so prevalent.

"We've been good at adapting in the past. When the laws change we move on, get into a new sort of game and look to dominate again. I think that's what'll happen in the kicking and catching area."

Encouraging second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu to kick more often is one goal, although Smith admitted they did not want to detract from his ability to bust the line.

A desire to improve kicking skills among fringe squad members explained Lelia Masaga's involvement today.

The Chiefs wing debuted against Italy last month but missed the cut for the Tri-Nations.


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