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'There's no hiding from it': Jason Ryan faces big ask ahead of Springboks clashes

By Tom Vinicombe
Jason Ryan. (Photo by Marty Melville/Photosport)

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New All Blacks assistant coach Jason Ryan has precious little time to get his charges up to speed ahead of what looms as two crucial clashes against the Springboks in South Africa.

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The New Zealand national side will depart for the Republic later this week, where they will take on the current holders of the World Cup in Mbombela and Johannesburg in back-to-back matches that will go some way to deciding the victors of this year’s Rugby Championship.

Ryan only stepped into the new role this week, having replaced John Plumtree as the All Blacks’ forwards coach.

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With such as short turnaround between being appointed into the new role and having to prepare the All Blacks to tackle a side known for their forward prowess, Ryan has had to quickly stamp his mark on the All Blacks pack – and he’s done that in the simplest way possible.

“I haven’t tried to cram a lot of stuff in,” he told media this week. “It’s actually been the opposite. I’ve actually taken some stuff away and given them two things.

“It’s been my whole focus for the pack about what we’ve tried to work on. We’ve done a lot of stuff around our mauling stuff, obviously, and we’ve done a bit in the contact area there. Just getting to really understand that they’re trying to achieve and what they’re really trying to believe in has been the big one.”

While the All Blacks weren’t completely dominated by their Irish opposition in their July series defeat, they fell short of the mark – as was the case in their final two tests of last season, when they suffered another loss at the hands of Ireland as well as one to France.

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With senior lock Brodie Retallick sidelined for the trip to South Africa following a head clash with Andrew Porter and first-choice loosehead Joe Moody out for the season, the All Blacks were always going to face a big challenge against the Springboks – but they’ll now also have to manage without tighthead props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi, which means Ryan and the NZ forward pack have their work cut out for them ahead of their first clash on August 6.

However, there couldn’t be any better way to get back on the horse than against a hungry Springboks side, says Ryan, in what will be a harsh litmus test for the new forwards coach.

“You wouldn’t want it any better, would you? I honestly can’t wait,” he said. “There’s no better environment or country or team to test yourself as a forwards coach.

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“But, in all honesty, it’s about the boys. It’s about the All Blacks and where this team’s at and where the forward pack’s at at the moment. We’ve got to be fast learners pretty quickly.

“I think everyone could see [what happened against Ireland]. The boys were really disappointed and there’s no mistake, there’s no hiding from it.

“The All Blacks pack, it’s been dented. It really has been, and the jersey, we talked about it in the forwards meeting today, we didn’t hide anything. We were really, really honest, and we have to be, and we’ve got to get on with it.”

While the All Blacks suffered a first-ever home defeat at the hands of Ireland (and, by extension, a first-ever home series defeat), July wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Springboks either, who also suffered a historic home loss to Wales in the second of their three tests. While South Africa bounced back to claim the series 2-1, they’ll also be looking to assert themselves following a few less-than-impressive results following their World Cup triumph in 2019.

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