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Dublin: 12 °C Thursday 16 August, 2018
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The All Blacks are loose and laid back almost to the point of falling over

The world champions are completely comfortable in their surroundings and they’ve earned the right to be that way.

Jerome Kaino and Ardie Savea share a joke after Monday's press obligations.
Jerome Kaino and Ardie Savea share a joke after Monday's press obligations.
Image: Photosportnz/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Sean Farrell reports from Chicago

YOU WOULD PROBABLY never go so far as to say New Zealand’s rugby players are up tight, but this week they seem a little more relaxed than usual.

Players saunter around the enormous foyer of their downtown hotel. The locals may not recognise them, but there are plenty of media and travelling Kiwi supporters close by and still the star attractions of the Rugby Weekend seem utterly at ease with any approach and friendly passing chit-chat.

Even down in the formal setting of the press conference room, the informality is strong as Ryan Crotty and Sam Cane sit together and take pot-shots at one another while the cameras are rolling and microphones are hot.

“I’m never really the centre of attention anywhere I go,” begins Crotty before he’s rudely interrupted by Cane:

“Except for his own mirror.”

The double act bit continued when Cane was making a serious point about the increasing weight requirements of an openside flanker, drawing an ironic whistle of amazement from Crotty when the back row revealed how he was tipping the scales at in or around 108 kilos.

The comfort with which these All Blacks handle themselves is entirely in-keeping with how the group as a whole is operating. They are the global standard-bearers for the sport, but at this stage of the week they are not operating with military precision. Off the field, there is no uniform training attire imposed on the players and most go about their serious business in the gym with basketball jerseys. The listed start times of their press duties have been optimistically early and almost routinely pushed back by the hour to accommodate late starts to training and delays getting around the city.

Sam Cane gets medical attention Sam Cane is likely to make his return from a hamstring injury against Ireland. Source: Photosport/Bruce Lim/INPHO

Once suited up for training though, they’re down to business and hard at work perfecting the skills and abilities that make them the finest rugby players in a nation full of extremely good rugby players. Their 37 – 10 win over Australia, all players agree, wasn’t good enough for the standards they’ve set themselves.

“Massive area for improvement in defence and the way we attack,” Crotty says of the Wallabies game, an answer delivered without a hint of dissent from Cane.

Maybe the pressure of the occasion caused a few guys to… we probably didn’t express ourselves as well as we could have in terms of how we communicate and help each other out. Little improvements like that could pay big dividends.

“Skill-sets got a bit not-as-smooth-as-they-often-are, so there’s been a lot of work this week on the little things: catch-pass and the things that make the engine roll.”

The severity in that response didn’t linger on. The piss-taking savagery also managed to take in a player who was safely tucked away upstairs, World Rugby breakthrough player of the year nominee Anton Lienert-Brown.

“Aw yeah, the Chiefs have helped develop him and they brought him up from Christchurch when they didn’t want him down there,” Cane said to draw a groan from his media manager.

“Most of it would probably go down to the way Ryan’s helped him into the saddle. He’s been outstanding. I’m sure Anton would say the same thing. It’s as much Ryan’s nomination as it is Anton’s.”

Ryan Crotty poses for a photo with fans Crotty poses with fans at a rugby clinic in Chicago over the weekend. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Too often the top table from which players communicate through the media is a rigid, awkward setting. So it feels good to watch two people riff off eachother and appear comfortable in their own skin. Comfortable enough to make a joke and not have to explain to everyone that their obvious joke was, in fact, just a joke.

On the field, the All Blacks are an all-conquering machine. Off it, they are loose, chilled and laid back to the point of falling over.

Then again, they’ve earned the right to be. And we don’t need to look further than Ireland’s last meeting with them for an example of their outright refusal to accept second best. We asked Crotty if he would mind talking us through the painful try. Unless, of course, he was sick of talking about it.

“He’s not, mate, honestly,” Cane states definitively as Crotty responds sarcastically.

“I was hoping you’d ask about that.”

“He was,” Cane jumps in a second time, slightly more excited, “on the lift on the way down, he was like: ‘hopefully they’ll ask me about my try.’”

The media is too predictable. The All Blacks? Far from it.

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Ireland’s 2013 tormentor Crotty looking forward to clash with old pal Jared Payne

Analysis: Where have the All Blacks’ 60 tries in 2016 come from?

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Sean Farrell

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