Bunce centre of attention

David Daniels in Johannesburg finds experience is vital to the All Blacks
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The Independent Online
New Zealand's golden oldies have never had it so good. Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones, Zinzan Brooke and Frank Bunce are all paid-up members of rugby's senior service - a battle- hardened quartet of international players who seem to be getting better with age.

Two weeks ago, Fitzpatrick, 33, the All Black skipper, became the most capped forward of all time when he played in the 23-19 win over South Africa in Durban - his 80th Test appearance. The hooker then went one better with last week's 33-26 win in Pretoria.

Jones could have matched his captain's record but for his refusal on religious grounds to play on Sundays that ruled him out of last year's World Cup. Jones has since made the switch from open to blindside flanker. At 31, few players could have successfully made the change so late in their careers, but Jones has barely broken stride. In Pretoria he won his 48th cap as the All Blacks became the first New Zealand team to win a series in South Africa.

Brooke, two months older than Jones and capped 45 times, has much in common with his two Auckland team-mates: he was a part of the 1987 World Cup-winning team, and has continued to improve despite changes in the back-row laws. He has cleverly adapted his play by packing down alongside Jones or the other flanker, Josh Kronfeld, to give him the extra room to tackle opponents before they break the advantage line.

But it is Bunce who perhaps epitomises the all-round talent of this All Black side. At 34, Bunce is the oldest player in the team, but you would never guess it looking at the way he chops down opposing midfields with shuddering tackle after tackle.

The North Harbour centre, who played for Western Samoa in the 1991 World Cup before switching allegiance to New Zealand, is not short on pace, and his partnership with Walter Little has given his side the strength to free the speed merchants Jeff Wilson and Christian Cullen, and unleash the power of Jonah Lomu.

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