Blackadder's second coming aids All Black resurgence

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The Independent Online

Back in 1998, the All Black hierarchy had pretty much given up on Todd Blackadder. Two years down the line, an adoring public have renamed an entire town in honour of his emergence as the millennial saint of his country's sporting religion. Rangiora, the small south island farming community that spawned the foursquare lock forward 28 years ago, is now officially "Blackadderville" and will remain so until after this weekend's Tri-Nations match between New Zealand and South Africa in Christchurch.

Back in 1998, the All Black hierarchy had pretty much given up on Todd Blackadder. Two years down the line, an adoring public have renamed an entire town in honour of his emergence as the millennial saint of his country's sporting religion. Rangiora, the small south island farming community that spawned the foursquare lock forward 28 years ago, is now officially "Blackadderville" and will remain so until after this weekend's Tri-Nations match between New Zealand and South Africa in Christchurch.

Signposts have been changed, a mural of Blackadder has been painted on the side of the town's busiest pub and every shop in Rangiora - sorry, Blackadderville - high street is decked out in All Black regalia.

"Todd is the epitome of what we all would like to be," said a local town councillor, Beverley Shepherd-Wright, yesterday. "He is strong in character and spirit, but very humble." So humble, indeed, that he has declined an offer of mayorship. "I'm just concentrating on preparing for the match," he said, a touch embarrassed.

Blackadder made his first Test start against England in Auckland in 1998 and lasted a mere 49 minutes before being substituted. In international terms, he slipped so far down the pecking order that he failed to make his country's 30-strong party for last year's World Cup. It was a different story at provincial level, though; he led Canterbury Crusaders to Super 12 glory in 1998, repeated the feat a year later and completed a scarcely credible hat-trick in May. When the new All Black coach, Wayne Smith, decided that the pressures of captaincy had restricted Taine Randell's progress as a loose forward, he listened to public opinion and made the popular choice.

Not that everything is hunky dory in the All Black camp going into the second of six Tri-Nations weekends. Despite edging out the Wallabies in a classic in Sydney last Saturday, Smith was concerned at his side's profligacy in letting slip a 24-point lead. Yesterday, he dropped three players - the centre Alama Ieremia, the lock Norm Maxwell and the flanker Scott Robertson - in favour of Mark Robinson, Troy Flavell and Josh Kronfeld, respectively. Kronfeld made a big difference in the second half in Sydney while Robinson, a former Bristol midfielder, is considered the coming man in the New Zealand back division.

The South Africans, understandably worried at the fragility of their pack, have also made three changes. Corne Krige returns to the back row, thereby releasing Andre Venter for a stint in the engine-room alongside Albert van den Berg. De Wet Barry comes in for the injured Japie Mulder at centre, while Braam van Straaten, widely criticised for his recent performances against England, reclaims the outside-half berth from Louis Koen.

There was a fair bit of anguish sloshing around the rugby circles of France yesterday when Toulon, the great club of Jerome Gallion and Eric Champ, were relegated from the top flight of the domestic championship because of debts totalling almost £500,000. The offer of a civic loan failed to save them, so next season's competition will feature 21 clubs rather than 22.

NEW ZEALAND (v South Africa, Tri-Nations, Christchurch, Saturday): C Cullen; J Lomu, M Robinson, P Alatini, T Umaga; A Mehrtens, J Marshall; K Meeuws, A Oliver, C Hoeft; J Kronfeld, R Cribb, T Flavell, T Blackadder (capt), T Randell, Reserves: L MacDonald, T Brown, B Kelleher, S Robertson, N Maxwell, C Dowd, M Hammett.

SOUTH AFRICA: P Montgomery; B Paulse, R Fleck, D W Barry, T Delport; B Van Straaten, W Swanepoel; R Kempson, C Marais, C Visagie; C Krige, A Van den Berg, A Venter, R Erasmus, A Vos (capt). Reserves: C Williams, G Esterhuizen, J Van der Westhuizen, W Brosnihan, W Meyer, J Labuschagne, J Smit.

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