Rugby Union: Beer is off as Wood clears the room for New Zealand: Steve Bale on yesterday's arrival of the All Blacks that had the RFU's secretary hot under the collar

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The Independent Online
IT WAS enough to make an amateur rugby man's heart sing. There was Dudley Wood, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union, greeting the All Blacks by tearing down their sponsors' signs before their welcome-to-England press conference could start. The tourists flew in yesterday for 13 matches which include Tests against Scotland and England.

It was also an unwitting reflection of the gulf between northern and southern-hemisphere rugby. In New Zealand no one cares, so wherever the All Blacks go, Steinlager is as pervasive as the silver fern. But here, old boy, we do things rather differently. 'If we had wanted a sponsor for this function we would have asked for one,' Wood said. 'It's a home unions press conference and it won't start until they're down.' Wood, by the way, is not an official of the committee of home unions.

How neatly ironic that the tourists' first base, the Oatlands Park at Weybridge, used to be a temperance hotel. And naturally the All Blacks take their rugby soberly: it is, for instance, a sobering thought for them that their opening two weeks bring them into collision with each of the four English divisions and England A. 'We rated it from day one as a difficult tour to get through intact,' Laurie Mains, the coach, said yesterday. 'The first fortnight is going to be very demanding but in the end we feel that will help our Test chances.'

These, however, have not been helped by the non-availability of Grant Fox, the peerless place- kicker, on business grounds - even though his business will bring him to Britain conveniently in time for the Test matches in late November.

Come in one of Steven Bachop, Lee Stensness or Marc Ellis. 'Grant Fox is a one-in-a-lifetime player,' Mains said. 'He is a precision kicker totally dedicated to everything he does. It was no good going for a player to play his style of rugby.'

All of which has to entail more expansive methods, probably with the full-back Matthew Cooper kicking the goals. Given Fox's phenomenal success-rate, it is somehow less menacing. Moreover, apart from before the Tests, there will be no haka. All Blacks without their war-dance? Now that really is less menacing.

All Blacks united, page 38

(Photograph omitted)

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