All Blacks are over sickness bug and ready to leave England's series in tatters, warns Mealamu
15:16 GMT, 30 November 2012
New Zealand hooker Keven Mealamu has insisted that the illness which hit nearly all of Steve Hansen’s squad earlier in the week has had no adverse effect on their preparations for Saturday’s final autumn international against England at Twickenham.
Hansen revealed on Thursday that the vast majority of his All Blacks squad had been struck by a 24-hour sickness bug which has caused vomiting and diarrhoea.
But despite confirming that he was one of the players affected by the illness, Mealamu – who starts on Saturday – is confident that the world champions are over the worst of it and are fully prepared for the challenge of taking on Stuart Lancaster’s side.
Ready to roll: Keven Mealamu visited the West London Free School today to teach the Year 8 pupils
Recovered: New Zealanders Mealamu, Adam Thomson and Tawera Kerr-Barlow sign autographs
‘Most of the team have been hit by a bit of a bug, but that is the sort of thing that happens on tour,’ explained the 33-year-old veteran of 101 Tests. ‘I think everyone is just getting over it at the right time though.
‘Everyone is well now and certainly feeling a lot better than we did earlier in the week.
‘I became ill with it for a bit on Tuesday night so it wasn’t a good start to the week, but you just have to get on with it, get on with the job and make sure we get the things we need ready for the weekend.
‘Obviously it is something that has come through the team as a bit of a surprise but we have had to put it aside for a second and make sure we are prepared.’
The All Blacks have not played against England since 2010 – when Mealamu was banned for four weeks for headbutting Lewis Moody – and for six of the starting XV it will be the first time they have played at Twickenham, but Mealamu insists that those who have played at HQ before are just as excited about running out at the iconic stadium on Saturday as the rookies are.
‘All the boys understand the magnitude of where we are playing,’ he enthused. ‘It is honestly one of the greatest places to play rugby. The home of rugby.
‘Whether it’s guys that have played there before or not, we all just can’t wait to get on the field and play.’
Top class: Richie McCaw and the rest of the All Blacks were in training yesterday
Illness: The New Zealand squad were struck down with a sickness bug earlier this week
A stalwart of the Kiwi side for 10 years now, Mealamu has had to play second fiddle to Andrew Hore so far during this tour, but with his fellow veteran suspended for five weeks for striking Wales lock Bradley Davies in the 33-10 win in Cardiff last weekend, Mealamu is given the chance to start at Twickenham.
The Auckland Blues hooker – no stranger to controversy himself – sympathises with Hore, but he is understandably delighted to be pulling on the All Black No 2 jersey again.
‘There is nothing worse than watching on the sidelines so I am really looking forward to getting back out there and helping the team out,’ said Mealamu, who was talking after an impromptu kick about with budding rugby players from the West London Free School at Regents Park.
‘I think Andrew and the team understood what happened and what it looked like and we knew what was coming. We all have to take on extra responsibility without him and we have to support him as well.’
Challenge: Tom Youngs (centre) will line up against Mealamu
Having seen umpteen Red Rose hookers come and go over the last decade, Mealamu lines up opposite another new face on Saturday in the form of Tom Youngs, the 25-year-old Leicester star who’s performances have been one of the major positives for Lancaster this autumn despite defeats to South Africa and Australia in the last two weeks. Mealamu admits he has been impressed by Youngs’ start to Test rugby.
‘I have had a brief look at him over the last week and I know he has just recently converted from being in the backline, so it is quite a good effort from him to be able to play in the front row now,’ said Mealamu. ‘He has done really well.
Ready England will have to make special plans to stop Dan Carter from running the show
‘I have been impressed with his work around the field and he is quite a physical player. He looks to hit a lot of the rucks and likes to have ball in hand, so for us we’re looking at him as quite an important player for them.’
Having seen several England sides come and go since his All Blacks debut in 2002, Mealamu – who infamously dislocated Brian O’Driscoll’s shoulder in tandem with Tana Umaga in the first Lions Test in 2005 – is a good judge of a Red Rose XV.
Lancaster’s troops have been criticised for lacking a cutting edge going forward, but Mealamu says he has been impressed with the attacking abilities of what he sees as a team breaking with English traditions.
Limbering up: Ma'a Nonu is put through his paces (left), as he relaxes with Liam Messam (right)
‘We will find out more about this England team in time,’ said Mealamu, who started in last year’s World Cup final over France, ‘I think at the moment they are a team that are still working to get that identity going and put a run of good performances together.
‘But for an England side they use the ball really well. They are quite an exciting side to watch and they look to counter really well and I think comparing to England sides in the past they seem more willing to attack.’
But as impressed as Mealamu may be with England’s ability to attack and counter-attack, there is no better side in the world at those two facets of the game than the All Blacks, who have cruised past Scotland, Italy and Wales so far on tour without ever really hitting top gear.
Bouncing back: Chris Robshaw will hope to end the series on a high against the world champions
But there is no sign of the All Blacks letting up – illness or no illness.
Hansen has picked the strongest side available to him for Saturday’s game and Mealamu says the side are determined to end their tour on a high.
‘We are happy with what we have been able to achieve so far but the tour is not finished yet, we have got one more job to do so we need to make sure we finish well,’ he said. ‘It all comes down to this last game and how we finish.
‘It is against another big foe of ours and who we enjoy playing against. To be playing England at their home, it is a game you have to come over here and make sure you do well.’
All smiles: Chris Ashton (left) shared a joke in training yesterday
Known for playing with a swagger and verve not seen anywhere else on the planet, and as odds-on favourites, New Zealand could be forgiven for targetting not just a win, but a comprehensive one. But Mealamu is having none of it.
‘It is about winning,’ he said. ‘Whether it comes down to one point or whether it is a bigger margin it doesn’t matter, at the end of the day it is just about winning and that is what we are determined to do.’
England, you have been warned.