Two rivers run through the city of Lyon and two hills loom over it: the Fourvière, "the hill for praying", and the Croix Rousse, "the hill for working". When the All Blacks go to work on Portugal this afternoon it may take more than an appeal to the almighty to spare them from a heavy beating, possibly of a record margin. The Portuguese say their goal is to keep the score under 100 points.
The powers-that-be in the shape of the International Rugby Board have unapologetically done their best to help them.
Paddy O'Brien, the tournament's referees' manager, confirmed yesterday he and the match referee – England's Chris White – had sought and received an undertaking from the All Blacks' scrum coach, Mike Cron, and head coach, Graham Henry, that Portugal's safety in the set-piece would be guaranteed. "Chris and myself spoke briefly with Mike Cron at the coaches' briefing," said O'Brien from Paris. "He and Graham Henry gave us an assurance, basically, that they [the All Blacks] will not be putting anyone in a wheelchair. They won't be putting any Portuguese heads up their backsides in the scrum."
Cron promised as much, too, when he said his tight forwards would ease off pushing in the scrum if it got "dicey". For New Zealand, who opened with a 76-14 hammering of Italy, today is about a run-out for the likes of Conrad Smith and Joe Rokocoko and the need to avoid any more second-row injuries. Henry said he was hopeful Reuben Thorne and Keith Robinson would be fit for next week, but this afternoon Carl Hayman, the prop, will double as lock cover on the bench.
New Zealand's stand-in skipper, Jerry Collins, said: "This is about nailing what you want to nail and the scoreline will take care of itself," after taking yesterday's captain's run in the absence of the rested Richie McCaw. "Everybody is vying for positions later in the tournament."
For the record, in World Cups, the highest score was New Zealand's 145 against Japan in 1995 and the greatest margin was set by Australia beating Namibia 142-0 four years ago. The All Blacks were so efficient and ruthless against the Italians in Marseilles that they spent less than five minutes in their opponents' 22 and scored 11 tries.
A New Zealand side at full pelt could register a similar tally in the first half at Stade Gerland, where the locals are used to excellence in the shape of six-in-a-row French football champions, Lyonnais. Pray for Portugal if you think it will help.
New Zealand: Muliaina (Waikato); Toeava (Auckland), Smith (Wellington), Mauger (Canterbury), Rokocoko (Auckland); Evans (Otago), Leonard (Waikato); Tialata (Wellington), Hore (Taranaki), Somerville (Canterbury), Jack (Tasman), Williams (Auckland), Collins (Wellington, capt), Masoe (Wellington), Lauaki (Waikato). Replacements: Oliver (Otago), Woodcock (North Harbour), Hayman (Otago), So'oialo (Wellington), Mealamu (Auckland), Ellis (Canterbury), MacDonald (Canterbury).
Portugal: Leal; Aguilar, Portela, Mateus, Carvalho; Malheiro, Pissarra; Silva, Correia, Spachuck, d'Orey, Uva, Murinello, Coutinho, Uva (capt).Replacements: Cordeiro, Ferreira, Penalva, Girão, Uva, Pinto, Cardoso Pinto.
Referee: C White (England)Reuse content