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Why the Wallabies have to be over Retallick 'like a rash‘

By Adam Julian
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

Ian Jones, affectionately known as the ‘Kamo Kid’ was an exceptional All Blacks lock capped 79 times between 1990 and 1999.

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He believes every stadium has a different “vibe,” but few venues share the splendour of the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).

Jones played the All Blacks first Test at the fabled MCG on July 26, 1997.

In front of 90,119 spectators, the All Blacks defeated Australia 33-18 with Christian Cullen, Frank Bunce, and Jeff Wilson scoring tries. Carlos Spencer booted 18 points.

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A year later Jones returned with a vastly different All Blacks line-up, and despite scoring a try, suffered a 16-24 defeat.

Matthew Burke scored all 24 points for the Wallabies that July 11 night – still a record for an Australian in Tests against New Zealand.

“Playing at the MCG is among my career highlights,” Jones told RugbyPass.

“I first went to the MCG in 1992. The All Blacks had a training run there, and even though it was empty, you could feel the character, charisma, and size of the place.

“To actually play there in front of so many people, is really special. It’s hard to describe that adrenaline rush. The Southern Stand, alone, holds as many as Eden Park.

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“Melbourne is not known as a rugby town, but it’s a sporting city. There was a buzz about it, you felt a part of the build-up.

“I know the All Blacks will relish being in Melbourne. When you’re a professional athlete it’s often very routine. To be somewhere different is refreshing.”

The 1997 All Blacks were a breath of fresh air with their exhilarating attacking approach. They were undefeated in a dozen Tests that season and scored 72 tries. The vast expanse of the MCG was tailor-made for their style.

“We targeted the speed of the Wallabies ruck ball knowing the dimensions of the ground were wider than most fields. If we could use our speed on the outside we could outflank Australia,” Jones said.

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“If you look at that Test Justin Marshall’s delivery was bang on. Andrew Mehrtens was very compact and Walter Little and Frank Bunce did their thing in midfield.

“Jeff Wilson scored an especially memorable try outrunning Joe Roff. Being part of those moments is why you play footy.”

The retirements of Zinzan Brooke, Frank Bunce, and Sean Fitzpatrick and fatigued regulars like Walter Little, Michael Jones, and Jonah Lomu made the 1998 All Blacks significantly less formidable.

By contrast, the Wallabies were simmering under the astute tutelage of Rod McQueen. A Matthew Burke masterclass gave the Wallabies their first win over the All Blacks since 1994.

“Test matches against Australia are decided by fine margins and that hasn’t changed. You get a few chances and that night Australia nailed theirs and we didn’t,” Jones said.

For most of the 90s, Jones tussled fiercely with John Eales, a talisman the present Wallabies lack.

“Shutting down John Eales was a big part of my job. He could dominate the air from kick-offs, general kicks, and of course lineouts,” Jones said.

“John would often stand a bit wider and exploit weaknesses in rucks or carry strong. He was a very composed player so anything you could do to upset him was helpful. If we nullified Eales, it went a long way towards winning.”

Following a disastrous span of six defeats in eight Tests between November 2021 and August 2022, the All Blacks have rediscovered their winning edge undefeated in their last nine internationals. Jones attributes much of that success to the quality of contemporary locking stocks.

“We’re blessed to have three world-class locks absolutely assured in their core roles. If I were marking Brodie Retallick, I’d be all over him like a rash. If Retallick hits the gain line regularly it gives the All Blacks such an advantage.

“Sam Whitelock is a real master of the lineout so you have to be clever the way you mix things up.

“Sam plays closer to the ruck than Brodie though when Whitelock is in tandem with Scott Barrett he’s adapted his game to play slightly wider.

“The way all three complement each other is just superb. Locks are a combination in much the same way loose forwards or midfielders are.”

Jones famously played 47 Tests beside Robin Brooke. He sees great potential in Josh Lord and Tupou Vaa’i too.

“Tupou is a big body who can attract defenders and plays in the mold of a Retallick.

“Lord has been picked because of his greater height. He has the potential to dominate all facets of the aerial battle which is so crucial.”

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