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'It's been really crucial': The All Blacks' key lesson prior to heading north

By Tom Vinicombe
Ethan Blackadder played like a man possessed against the Springboks. (Photo by Michael Chambers/Photosport)

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This weekend, the All Blacks will play their first match in Europe since 2018. For some members of the squad, it will be their first-ever game in the Northern Hemisphere, and that brings about its own challenges.

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The quintet of Ethan Blackadder, Will Jordan, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tyrel Lomax and Tupou Vaa’i all made their test debuts post the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and as such, haven’t had the opportunity to square off against European opposition, let alone travel north due to the ongoing impacts of the global pandemic.

Thanks to the persistently good weather down south this season, Blackadder and Taukei’aho, who only earned their All Blacks call-ups this this year, haven’t even played a test match in wet conditions – but that’s exactly what is forecast for this weekend, when NZ square off with Wales in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, with the roof wide open to the elements.

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Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar explains why the Autumn Nations Series is so brutal.
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Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar explains why the Autumn Nations Series is so brutal.

When the boisterous partisan crowd find their singing voices – likely before the match even kicks off – the young All Blacks will experience an atmosphere unlike any they’ve ever faced before, adding to the magnitude of the occasion.

26-year-old Blackadder welcomes the challenge.

 

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“There is a few of us that haven’t played in the Northern Hemisphere yet so we’re fizzing for the game, he said after being named on the blindside flank for Saturday’s clash. “70,000 [people], they’re talking of to pack out Millenium. It’s good to be on a UK tour when we’re playing the game we love, so [I’m] pumped.

“I expect probably a physical game of footy, as it’s been said. They’re the Six Nations champs so credit to them for that. All I know is it’s going to be a big crowd and we’re up against a good Wales side so how good[is that]?”

Although Blackadder and some of his inexperienced teammates haven’t played rugby against Northern Hemisphere sides in Northern Hemisphere conditions yet, they finally have had the opportunity to face off against the Springboks this year, after the world champions withdrew from the 2020 Rugby Championship.

Although South Africa have their own quirks to their game (particularly in the first test between the two sides, when they adopted an excessively kick-heavy approach), they do share a similar style to the teams up north and boast one of the best tactical kicking games in the world, when on form. They also possess some of the most physical defenders in the game, and the lessons taken from the two matches against the Boks are set to prove invaluable against the likes of Wales, Scotland, Italy and France over the coming month.

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“It’s been really crucial actually,” Blackadder said of the series with South Africa, shared one win apiece. “We got some good learnings out of those games and a few areas we wanted to improve on to come into this northern tour.

“You’ve always got to be at your peak, physically, to be playing those top teams. You can’t really be off, as such, because they’ll punish you for it and there’s no hiding out there.”

Blackadder will earn his eighth cap against Wales this weekend, and his fourth start, but the will make just his second appearance in his preferred No 6 jersey, having also been utilised on the openside flank.

In fact, all three starting loose forwards, Blackadder, Dalton Papalii and Ardie Savea, have spent ample time with the No 7 on their back this season, which suggests Wales will have to be especially careful in order to retain possession at the breakdown.

“I suppose we have all had a bit of time this year in the 7 jersey,” Blackadder said. “I suppose we like having a crack at the ball so hopefully we can snaffle opportunities when they come. It’s going to be pretty cool playing alongside Dalts and Ardie.”

This weekend’s game will be the first time the three have started alongside one another this season, and while Blackadder is continuing to impress with his consistent performances, he still gets plenty of joy out of having his name read out to play each week.

“It’s always a real buzz because you just never know if you’re getting named or not so when you hear your name, it’s like wowee. It’s pretty awesome,” he said.

“You’ve still got to get the weeks right and be on your toes because there’s a lot of good competition here and you’re never guaranteed the jersey. I enjoy every week we have and picked or not, you’ve always got to roll [with it]. So, to be playing this weekend is unreal and I can’t wait.”

This weekend’s match kicks off at 5:15pm GMT on Saturday (5:15am on Sunday morning for those in New Zealand).

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