Castaignede insists All Blacks set the standard
June 6, 2007

European club rugby is growing in riches and status but has considerable ground to make up on the playing standards set by the All Blacks says veteran French fullback Thomas Castaignede.

There was a mixture of anger and admiration towards the New Zealand team from Castaignede yesterday, as his team prepared for Saturday's second test at Westpac Stadium here.

The dismay was directed at All Blacks coach Graham Henry, who had accused the tourists of deliberately slowing down the first test in Auckland through injury stoppages and negative scrum tactics.

However, after voicing a strong rebuttal, 53-test veteran Castaignede conceded Henry's team were still clearly at the front of the pack three months out from the World Cup.

"At the moment the best team in the world is probably the All Blacks and the second team is still the All Blacks -- All Blacks B," he said.

"When you change (Aaron) Mauger for (Luke) McAlister or (Piri) Weepu for (Byron) Kelleher or Jerry Collins comes in -- you know lovely bloke off the field but on the field he's very dangerous.

"For young players it's a tremendous experience to come here and play the All Blacks.

"Maybe in two games against the All Blacks they will have learned more than one year with their club."

Castaignede said even though the tourists were lacking most of their first-choice players -- involved in the French club rugby playoffs -- they still shouldn't shackle their willingness to attack this weekend.

They were guilty of not chancing their arm in the 11-42 loss at Eden Park, Castaignede said, although a serious lack of possession was an impediment, as was the aggressive All Blacks defence.

"At fullback you get one second to react whereas maybe in Europe, you've got a bit more time," he said.

"These guys are the best in the world when you've got (wingers) Sitiveni Sivivatu and Joe Rokocoko, they don't give you any time to make an impact. It's just a high level and when you compete at a high level you have to take a bit of risk.

"That's what we'll try to do this weekend."

Castaignede, a prominent media commentator on rugby and related issues in Europe, caused a stir yesterday when he accused Henry of overstepping the mark in terms of international rugby relations.

"We respect them (All Blacks) a lot because they are a very good team but they cannot dictate to everybody what the other team have to do. We're going to show them on the pitch that we deserve a bit more respect than what they give to us," he said.

"We didn't slow the game. It wasn't a tactic, it's only in your mind. We never spoke about that at training or whatever."

Castaignede, the scorer of 247 test points, is desperate for a strong showing on Saturday to push his World Cup claims to coach Bernard Laporte.

He has already announced he will retire later this year, aged 32.

Beyond that he said a career in television -- and banking -- beckons.

"It'll be good to look after my money."

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