Tyrel Lomax makes 'outstanding' return as 'All Blacks machine' purrs
As coach Ian Foster’s preferred tighthead prop, Lomax’s absence has been keenly felt in a forward pack under immense pressure ahead of a potential quarter-final date with the winner of the fiercely competitive Pool B.
Taking the field in the 48th minute against Italy, Lomax and fellow reserve prop Tamaiti Williams immediately asserted themselves on the match, destroying the Italian scrum – much to the delight of scrum coach Greg Feek.
“I thought he was outstanding after the time he’s had off,” Feek said. “And the fact that he couldn’t bend his leg.
“Our medical and S & C staff have done a fantastic job because you’ll know how deep the cut was. Getting him back and giving him the confidence to have that knee do everything it needed to, the progression they structured was world-class.
“His performance was great for what he’s been through. I know after the game his chassis was still out on the field. He was absolutely gone … but in a good way.”
It was a much-improved performance across the field, largely thanks to the platform Lomax and the forwards provided.
“It’s just great to see an All Blacks machine go out and do its business,” Feek continued. “You would have noticed just after halftime we got a bit sloppy. Our discipline was good in that first half and then we slipped off and the Italians were angry and frustrated about how that first half went as well, so they came out fizzed up.
“We weren’t up to our standards. So that’s been a focus for us – to keep building on the Italian game. The key now is to keep growing the smallest parts [of our game] by those micros. The game-plan is pretty cemented, the boys can catch up pretty easily and it’s all about the little things. Getting better is always our mantra.
“I also like the fact that there’s so much competition in this group. People are talking about how do you get the edge or how do you motivate? This is the All Blacks: we’re playing for our country, we’re in a World Cup. But underneath that, there’s that competition for places too.”
With just one round remaining before the knockout stages, the competition for selection is in its final phase, making the clash against Uruguay a final audition for minutes in the quarter-final – should the All Blacks retain their place as Pool A runners-up.
The only All Black yet to feature in the tournament is the recently included Ethan Blackadder, a versatile and uncompromising loose forward who joined the squad after the back injury to winger Emoni Narawa forced the youngster to return to New Zealand.
As it stands, the only player who should be unavailable for selection against Los Teros would be Ethan de Groot, who is serving a two-game ban for a dangerous hit on Namibia’s Adriaan Booysen.
Discipline will of course be crucial for every team in the final round of pool play to avoid losing any key players on the eve of the knockouts.
That is one area where the All Blacks have improved, having experienced an abrupt introduction to the standards that would be required of a competing World Cup team.
“We have to hold ourselves accountable to certain things. I hate to say it, but the best thing was the referee coming out (against France) and saying, bang, that’s not good enough. It kind of shook everyone to get things right.
“So we stand by those measurables. That’s how we’ll get better – by focusing on what we can control.”