By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The importance of Brodie Retallick to the All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup chances were hammered home when coach Steve Hansen named him in the squad despite the injured lock likely to miss the entire pool stage of the tournament.
Retallick dislocated his shoulder and suffered nerve damage in a match against South Africa in June, an injury he feared might prevent him from being selected for his second World Cup.
Hansen, though, has reasoned that the two-time defending champions will be able to get through the group stage without the 2014 World Player of the Year. South Africa are their only real threat to top spot in Pool B, which also includes Canada, Namibia and Italy.
Growing up in north Canterbury, Retallick began turning heads playing for Christchurch Boy’s High but was a rare miss by the Crusaders scouts and he ended up moving north to provincial side Hawke’s Bay before joining the Waikato Chiefs in 2012.
Hansen picked him that same year, his first as head coach, and Retallick began to draw comparisons with All Blacks great Colin Meads, who was renowned for his uncompromising attitude, fitness and physical toughness.
As well as that ability to dominate contact, it is the 2.04m-tall Retallick’s prowess at lineouts and the scrum which makes him such an important part of the All Blacks’ plans, while his pace and ability to roam wide make him an all-around threat.
That was never more evident than last year against Australia when he scored a sensational try from 40 metres out, first fooling flyhalf Bernard Foley with a dummy pass and then outsprinting the cover defence to the line.
The try was voted the world’s best in 2018.
While fans and pundits marvelled at Retallick’s speed and ball-handling skills to finish off that sweeping counterattack, there was more to it than that.
It was Retallick’s driving tackle on Will Genia on the All Blacks’ 22-metre line that actually sparked the move. He then got to his feet and recycled possession, and after the All Blacks rampaged to the Wallabies’ 22-metre line the ball ended up in his hands again.
Retallick then he finished off the move he had started 50 seconds earlier.
British sports columnist Mark Reason was clearly impressed by Retallick that day, spotting glimpses of former Australia captain John Eales in the performance.
“Brodie Retallick is what you would get if Doctor Frankenstein crossed Arnold Schwarzenegger with John Eales,” Reason wrote on Stuff Media after the game.
“They used to call Eales ‘nobody’ because nobody’s perfect … but on Saturday in Sydney Retallick surpassed the great man.
“This was one of the great performances in test rugby.
“The keen intelligence that Retallick brings to the game along with his extraordinary combination of power, stamina and coordination, make him the giant among modern rugby players.”
It is little wonder Hansen is prepared to gamble.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)