All Black legend Zinzan Brooke is backing Brodie Retallick to replicate the World Cup-winning comeback that saw Richard Hill help England lift the trophy in Sydney in 2003.
Retallick has been named in Steve Hansen’s 31-strong All Black squad for Japan – although the earliest the second row could return from the shoulder injury suffered in the 16-all, late July Rugby Championship draw with South Africa would be the knock-out stages.
Hansen knows that a fully fit Retallick changes the whole complexion of the New Zealand pack and is prepared to take him to the finals despite not yet having a return to play date.
In 2003, Saracens flanker Hill badly tore a hamstring in the opening pool match with Georgia. Coach Clive Woodward kept him with the squad while he undertook lengthy rehabilitation work, believing the back row was so important it would be worth the gamble of operating a man down for a while.
Hill did not appear again for England until the semi-final, helping to defeat France, and he then delivered another world-class performance alongside back row colleagues Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back in the momentous extra-time final victory over Australia.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 28, 2019
Like Hill, 77-cap Retallick is so important to the way his team operates that he has become a special case and former All Black Brooke is confident the lock will be a key figure at whatever point he returns to play.
Brooke, who overcame a serious Achilles injury to make the 1995 World Cup, told RugbyPass: “To me, Brodie Retallick is one and a half players – he is that important to the team. He gives so much more and while he may be a bit off form when he comes back, what he offers when at the peak of his game is astronomical.
“When you look at England in 2003, they were at their peak and the final piece of the jigsaw in the team was Richard Hill. He was an unsung hero – he got on with things and delivered in every match.
“Hill was such an important cog in the back row trio that England knew they had to wait for a fully fit Hill to be available during the 2003 World Cup campaign. Clive did wait and was paid back with the trophy.
“If you are going to pick a World XV then one of the top two locks you would pick is Retallick and together with Sam Whitelock, they make a great second row combination for the All Blacks.
“Retallick is like Australia’s John Eales in that you know he is going to pick off lineout ball from the opposition. Eales was a real pain in backside and Retallick will be exactly the same when he gets back and will cause all kinds of problems both in the tight and around the field with that Praying Mantis body.”
? WATCH | Steve Hansen gives an explanation on some of the selections in the All Blacks Rugby World Cup squad.
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) August 28, 2019
Following what Brooke terms “ three wobbles” by the All Blacks before they gained revenge over Australia at Eden Park, the former No8 rates England as a more formidable team heading into the World Cup, although the return of Retallick would tip the scales back the other way.
“The All Blacks will need Retallick in Japan and at the moment, on paper, England would be a little bit stronger than the All Blacks,” he said. “However, when Retallick comes back he will cause the opposition all kinds of problems.
“Of course you don’t hang your hat on one individual but one player can do something really important in a World Cup. Yes, match-wise Retallick will be a bit underdone when he gets back but I remember when I had to do my rehab work to make the 1995 World Cup after my ankle and partially torn Achilles injury, the training to get to the tournament was really tough.
“There will be a lot of focus on the pool game between the All Blacks and Springboks but both teams will get to the semi-finals. Is there an easier way to get to the final in Japan?
“I don’t think so because there are now six or seven teams who could win the World Cup which wasn’t the case 18 months ago when I would have said it doesn’t matter what route New Zealand take they will make the final. It’s now a level playing field.”
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