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'I felt like I'd been hit by a bus': Physical step up for touring All Blacks

By Tom Vinicombe
Dalton Papalii. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynold/Getty Images)

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The physical battles keep coming for the All Blacks and loose forward Dalton Papalii expects Ireland will be another step up from the opposition the side have faced to date throughout 2021.

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While the likes of Fiji, Australia and Argentina are no slouches when it comes to the collision area, the two matches against the Springboks at the tail-end of the Rugby Championship were the first hugely physical challenges the All Blacks have faced since the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Those matches were the perfect preparation for the European tour, where New Zealand have already faced off against a fired-up but under-resourced Wales side. The final two matches of the tour – and of the season – will see the All Blacks come up against Ireland and France, two nations that will again test the tourists in the physical side of the game.

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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.
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The panel of Ross Karl, Bryn Hall and James Parsons run their eyes over all the developments from the past week of rugby.

For Papalii, whose only European opposition prior to this year was Italy in 2018, the game in Wales was a marked step up from anything he’d come up against in the past – especially after missing both matches against the Springboks this season through injury.

“I definitely 100 per cent feel there’s a lift in physicality,” Papalii said on Thursday, “and that’s one thing I try pride myself on. Playing the Welsh and how I felt after the game, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus.”

“It’s good to get that exposure and see what it’s like playing these Northern Hemisphere teams and I’ve got to give them credit. They’re fit teams as well so we’ve always got to try to have that edge against them but the physicality is second to none. It’s the way the game should be played and I love it.”

Papalii was also confident that the physicality brought by Ireland this weekend would be another step up for the All Blacks.

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“You can see during our review on them, they’re physical boys so we’ve just got to match fire with fire against them and see what comes,” he said.

Matches between the All Blacks and Ireland over the past few years have often had an extra edge to them, with both 2016 clashes and the 2018 fixture all coming close to spilling over at times, such was the intensity of the battles.

And while Papalii was keeping mum on any specifics, the 24-year-old openside flanker acknowledged that the All Blacks had identified a few key things in their review of Ireland’s recent 60-5 win over Japan. He also paid tribute to the way the current side plays the game and how it mirrors the way the All Blacks approach their own matches.

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“We took a few things [out of the review] but it’s our secure,” he said. “They’re just strong players and they do the basics well … I always thought the All Blacks, why we are so good and back ourselves is because we do the basics well and the flashy stuff will come afterwards. I think the Irish are following the same mould. They’re doing the basics well and after they’re doing that, the flashy stuff is coming and they’re getting points.”

Despite the closely fought match-ups in 2016 and 2018, the most recent encounter between the two sides at the 2019 Rugby World Cup ended in a resounding victory for the All Blacks at the quarter-final stage of the competition. That may have in some ways been revenge for the loss in Dublin in 2018, which might mean the Irish themselves are now looking to enact their own vengeance.

This weekend’s fixture kicks off at 3:15pm BST.

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