New Zealand Rugby
All Blacks taking shape in Hong Kong
October 24, 2010
Sitiveni Sivivatu is the only member of the All Black squad not to travel to Hong Kong © Getty Images
Sitiveni Sivivatu remains the only missing piece of the All Blacks' end of year tour jigsaw puzzle after rehabilitating hooker Andrew Hore joined up with the squad to fly to Hong Kong.
Flying wing Sivivatu must prove his fitness in Waikato's ITM Cup semi-final clash with Auckland next weekend before he links up with the squad in London ahead of their meeting with England at Twickenham on November 6. Hore is also not expected to participate in Saturday's Bledisloe Cup clash with Australia as he continues his rehabilitation on a shoulder injury with head coach Graham Henry hoping he will be fit to feature against Scotland on November 14.
"He's preparing. I would think he'd come off the bench against Scotland at some stage," said Henry after the 29-man squad touched down in Hong Kong ahead of Saturday's fourth and final Bledisloe Cup Test of 2010.
The hooking role looms as a potential problem area for the All Blacks as incumbent Keven Mealamu has been nursing a calf injury since the end of the Tri-Nations on September 11 and has been unable to play for Auckland. He is expected to start against the Wallabies while Hawke's Bay's Hika Elliot will make his test debut if required.
Henry conceded Mealamu's fitness was a prime concern - alongside Daniel Carter's ankle, but was confident the 80-cap veteran was on track to face the Wallabies. "He played 40 minutes yesterday and he was fine," said Henry in relation to the All Blacks' final hit out in Auckland.
Carter was also in contention to start at fly-half although he confessed he was far from 100 per cent match fit after yesterday's opposed training session. "The game is very fast and (yesterday) I was struggling to keep up. I'm a bit unfit at the moment, the lungs were blowing a bit," he said.
Carter, who underwent surgery after the Tri-Nations title clinching test at Soweto in August, will be carefully monitored during the All Blacks first training session tomorrow in energy-sapping humidity. Richie McCaw and Kieran Read are other members of the squad to have bypassed provincial duty for Canterbury, leading Henry to acknowledge many of his players may be lacking sharpness when they attempt to increase their record trans-Tasman winning streak to 11.
"They are a bit under done but we have to get the balance right," he said. "Over the next 12 months they have a huge amount of rugby to play. They've got five tests (now), Super rugby pre-season, Super rugby, four tests (Tri-Nations) and then the World Cup. It's just madness if they try and play all the time."
The All Blacks were in camp for three days before departure, a stark contrast to the Wallabies who assembled in Sydney three weeks ago. The majority of All Blacks shook off jetlag at a joint fans day with their Australian rivals - a low key turn out emphasising the difficulty the Hong Kong Rugby Union has encountered promoting their second Bledisloe test.
About 22,000 tickets have been sold leaving about 18,000 still available for the match at Hong Kong Stadium. It is not yet known if Sonny Bill Williams will be an added attraction, with the All Blacks selectors waiting until Thursday to announce their 22-man squad. Williams may not have a profile in Hong Kong, and Henry was keen to maintain that status.
"We don't want to make him a special case though every time I go to a media session there's talk about Sonny Bill Williams. He's just acting like another person in the 30. He's settled in well, he's a good pro," Henry said. "He's got an understanding of his presence in the group. He's a modest boy, he doesn't get ahead of himself. He's had two and a half seasons just below the level of test match rugby and he's played well since he got back from France."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.