Umaga tries to 'move on' but fears he cannot

Around the same moment, O'Driscoll, who is not expected to play rugby again until the new year as he recovers from his dislocated shoulder, was telling BBC radio that he "bore no grudge" towards Umaga or Keven Mealamu, the other All Black involved in the First Test incident in Christchurch in June. That was not how O'Driscoll related it in his book published earlier last week - "I was bloody annoyed and angry at the lack of support from officialdom and the attitude of Umaga and Mealamu", wrote the Irish centre - and Umaga had that pithy passage read out to him as he fielded questions yesterday.

"I think nothing's really changed," said Umaga. "We did talk at the time and I told him [O'Driscoll] there was definitely nothing intentional. Accidents happen in rugby. I can't comment on how he perceives things and wants things to be done. I go about my business and do what I do. We'd just like it to move on and it hasn't really."

With a Grand Slam to play for, New Zealand have a week to prepare for the first match against Wales, followed in turn by Ireland, England and Scotland. Since O'Driscoll's misfortune in the First Test, Umaga as captain has lifted the Lions series trophy, the Bledisloe Cup and the Tri-Nations title. But despite his best efforts, the argument is not dead and buried. "It'll be interesting what's going to happen in Ireland," Umaga said. "I have volunteered to go to away to Spain for a week to take the heat off, but that's kind of fallen on deaf ears. So I'll be in Dublin."

Pressed on whether he would apologise to O'Driscoll he said: "It doesn't look like we'll be getting together at all. From what I've been hearing, he doesn't want to see me. We have chatted and, like I said, these things happen. How can you be sorry about things that happen in a game? I suppose I would say sorry to him now if that's all he wanted and I felt that would finish the issue, but I don't think it would. At this stage it's gone beyond that."

And the eyes with those familiar suitcased-sized bags under them remained as implacable as they are ablaze during the haka and in the heat of battle. There was a short "no" when Umaga was asked whether he was surprised the International Board had chosen to publicise the issue in the week of the All Blacks' arrival. The tourists are quietly suspicious of the motives of the anonymous source who forwarded the new footage to Sky Sports ("new" in the sense that the film had been with the IRB in Dublin, O'Driscoll's home city, for six weeks but popped up on Sky last Tuesday).

"It wasn't a spear tackle. We were cleaning out," said Umaga. "It is a very unsafe form of play but there was no intention for us to do what happened. Go and see rugby league and you'll see some tough spear tackles."

There is more than one side to Umaga, who is attempting to emulate his former coach Graham Mourie (in 1978) as the only All Black captain to complete a sweep of the home nations. There is the unappealing Umaga who aimed a mocking "Whoa-ho!" in the face of Simon Shaw when the England lock was sent off in Auckland in 2004. Then there is the super-talented Umaga, a deity of the rugby variety in a select group on this trip alongside Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

This is Tana of the mana: the literal and figurative heart of the planet's scariest back-division. And of course there is the Umaga who is remembered for rushing to the aid of the stricken Colin Charvis during a Test in Hamilton in 2003. The Samoan-born 18-times All Black skipper won an International Committee of Fair Play award for that.

Just before disappearing into the first team meeting of the tour Umaga - who had praised Wales's Gareth Thomas for his devotion to the team ethic - conceded his own captaincy was lacking something when he failed to check on O'Driscoll. "There was a bit of a lengthy break and I had to organise the next play.

"My loyalty has always been the utmost for the team. Maybe things could have been done better. Again, it's too late now. Maybe I've learned something from it, that if people are injured I should go and see how they are. But I'm not a doctor, so I can't help them there. There's not much else I can do."

GRAND SLAM DREAMERS: FOUR ALL BLACKS TO MAKE AN IMPACT

Conrad Smith: The unheralded

One of the world's best centres, it is Smith's misfortune that he has Tana Umaga and Aaron Mauger blocking his path. But Umaga will sit out at least one Test, so Smith's fluid handling and scintillating running lines should have their day.

Sitiveni Sivivatu: The finisher

Wonderfully balanced runner and white-hot finisher, this cousin of Joe Rokocoko is looking to make up for lost time after injury. Together with Doug Howlett and Rico Gear, the Fijian pair of backs give the All Black coaches a mind-boggling selection choice.

Sione Lauaki: The new force

Rodney So'oialo was elbowed sideways in the back row when the All Blacks unleashed Lauaki, 6ft 4in and 18 stone of Tongan gristle and bristle, at No 8 during the summer. The epitome of the footballing, bone-rattling Islander loose forward.

James Ryan: The rising lock

Red-haired ram-raider of the line-out who dragged Otago to last week's NPC final almost single-handed. Capable understudy to Chris Jack and Ali Williams, the 22-year-old student could oust one of them before the 2007 RWC.

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