McAlister allays fitness fears
August 19, 2009
New Zealand's Luke McAlister looks to offload the ball against the Springboks earlier this month © Getty Images
All Black Luke McAlister has returned to full training in Sydney to alleviate fears over his fitness to face the Wallabies in Saturday's Tri-Nations clash.
McAlister showed no signs of the painful back spasms that ruled him out for nearly all of Tuesday's session as he trained fully at a 90-minute skills session at North Sydney Oval. He ran at full pace, sidestepped and took part in one on one defensive drills with Ma'a Nonu, who will replace McAlister at inside centre if he is ruled out.
Backs coach Wayne Smith was non-committal about McAlister's chances before training but the session would have eased the coaches' minds.
"A back spasm is pretty debilitating but it can come right. With me, we were playing Otago in Dunedin and I got one at the captain's run, I worked on it all night and by the morning it came right and I was able to play," Smith told reporters. "Having experienced it myself, (I know) it can come right quite quickly. So I don't know what the odds are, but we're prepared for that."
Smith also revealed that the All Blacks went back to school with an extra rugby skills session after poor decision-making was identified as the cause of their South African woes.
Rather than a gym visit on a traditionally low-key Wednesday, the All Blacks took to North Sydney Oval for a 90-minute skills session as they try to reignite their Tri-Nations campaign and seal the Bledisloe Cup for 2009.
Under more warm, sunny skies, the All Blacks went back to kicking, catching, passing, and one-on-one defensive drills, while the lineout was given another workout. Smith said the errors which cost them dearly in dual losses to the Springboks didn't mean their skills had gone backwards.
"We've got to have all the players on the same page, seeing the same thing and making the right decision. We're not there as a team yet and hence you've seen poor execution," he said.
"I don't think our players have all of a sudden become unskilled. We've scored over 250 test tries in the last five years so you don't all of a sudden lose that. We'll get it back but it won't come back without work and developing these guys teamwork together."
The return of star fly-half Carter would provide an obvious boost in that regard, while McAlister's selection was not only for his kicking game but to provide another playmaker at No 12.
Smith said the selectors considered giving incumbent Nonu another shot at inside centre, with the benefit of the returning Carter's influence.
"He (McAlister) has got class. We know Ma'a is a class player and he's delivered consistently for us. But by his own admission he wasn't as effective in the last two tests.
"Luke's started to train really well, he's got a kicking game that gives us a left and right foot, and at some stage he's going to get back to the level he was at."
In the forwards, whilst the tight-five were retained, Kieran Read's selection at No.8 ahead of Rodney So'oialo was reward for an in-form player with excellent skills who had leadership potential. Not only had he performed strongly in 2009, his skill set was seen as more wide-ranging than 58-test veteran So'oialo.
"He's suited to No 8, he's got a skill level that fits in there, he can pass well and he's very composed with the ball at his feet," Smith said.
Smith echoed captain Richie McCaw's thoughts that the team were fizzing to make amends for South Africa, but a lid needed to be kept on their emotions in recent days. They had learned that from their South African experience.
"I would hope that there's a good edge there, but not too much so we can carry it in and execute well. Possibly the last couple of tests we've started a bit early, been on fire Monday and Tuesday then come Friday there's been a bit of mental fatigue set in."