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In Pics: New Zealand Training In Hamilton (1)

In Pics: New Zealand Training In Hamilton (1)

Click here for photos of the New Zealand squad’s training session in Hamilton on Monday.

Pictured above: Highlanders hooker Anton Oliver who has only played eight Test matches since captaining New Zealand to victory over Ireland at Lansdowne Road in 2001. A string of injuries and the rise of Keven Mealamu has seen Oliver run out of the side.

Mealamu starts again on Saturday with Oliver in reserve. The 30-year-old Oliver is expecting a tough challenge from Ireland.

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He said: “They’ll be different from the Lions. Firstly because they’ll be united, which the Lions clearly weren’t, and because they’re coming into this game on the back of success at provincial and national level. If you compare Ireland to the Lions, this team know what they’re doing.

“They know their strengths and they play to them, but they also have the ability to fall back on a second plan, as they proved in the second half of the French game and against England at Twickenham.”

Prop Carl Haymans, flanker and captain Richie McCaw and locks Troy Flavell and Chris Jack wait for a lineout at the Waikato Stadium. Upwards of 4,000 fans from the Hamilton region turned out to watch the All Blacks go through their paces.

New Zealand coach Graham Henry’s preparations for the first Test went pear-shaped at the start of the week when the squad’s luggage, including playing and training gear, was mis-directed and went from Auckland to Wellington instead of to the All Blacks’ base in Hamilton. Their training schedule was delayed by six hours.

Crusaders flanker Richie McCaw who will captain his country for the third time when the All Blacks meet Ireland at the weekend. The 25-year-old led New Zealand against Ireland (last November) and Wales (November 2004) previously.

With McCaw succeeding retired centre Tana Umaga as skipper, New Zealand coach Graham Henry said: “It’s a natural step for Richie to take on the captain’s role. He has been an All Black since 2001, he is a world class player, and he has led the team well in previous Tests. He has also been a highly successful captain with the Crusaders and with Canterbury.”

Blues hooker Keven Mealamu, who, like Ireland newcomer Isaac Boss, was born in Tokora, gets ready to fire a pass out at training in Hamilton. The 27-year-old started two Test on the All Blacks’ Grand Slam tour last autumn, against Ireland and England.

Blues flanker Jerome Kaino in full flight in Hamilton. The 23-year-old seems certain to make his All Blacks’ Test debut off the bench against Ireland on Saturday.

Graham Henry has picked two renowned number 7s in the flanker berths for the weekend’s encounter, but he sees no problem with having captain Richie McCaw and Chiefs forward Marty Holah on either side of the scrum.

The former Wales and Lions supremo said: “It will increase our mobility and will give us two 7s at the tackle area.

“Jerome Kaino will come on at some stage. He hasn’t played a lot of rugby and is probably a better impact player coming off the bench and playing that role.”

Highlanders prop Carl Hayman in the middle of a huddle during the All Blacks training session. The 6ft 3in front rower had the distinction of becoming the 1000th All Black when he took to the field against Samoa in 2001. Hayman will line out on the tighthead side of the New Zealand scrum on Saturday for his first appearance against Ireland.

Anton Oliver is expecting big things on Saturday from Ireland centre and captain Brian O’Driscoll and lock Paul O’Connell, who both missed the sides’ November clash due to injury.

He said: “Brian O’Driscoll and Paul O’Connell – these guys are world class players and they have a huge influence. There’s no doubt that they will make a difference.

“They missed our last game against Ireland – yet that game is history now and things have just gotten better and better for Ireland since. Their provinces performed well in Europe and Munster took the big prize. They will be on top of things now, and we’re actually expecting them to give us a real run for our money.

“They’ll view this game as an opportunity to put some good news into the record books, and this kind of thin happens – but I don’t want it to happen on my watch.”

**All photos by Billy Stickland of Inpho Photography**