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Plenty of depth in the tight five - Dowd

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allblacks.com     05 Dec 2018     Getty Images

That's the view of two-time World Cup All Blacks prop Craig Dowd as he assessed the quality of New Zealand's tight five prospects for the World Cup. Dowd, 49, who played 60 Tests between 1993 and 2000, said: "The competition for places is exciting. Looking at the number of props that are there who didn't appear to be there a season or two back is very encouraging."

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That was in spite of the fact Kane Hames wasn't featuring at the moment due to injuries. But the emergence of Karl Tu'inukuafe had been great while Nepo Laulala was also back from injury and that had strengthened the options available.

"If you look at the front row in general [hookers] Codie Taylor and Dane Coles are going to fight out for the starting position and I don't see Coles as the No.1, and I'm sure Taylor doesn't see Coles as No.1. It's his jersey to lose so the competition is going to be pretty fierce which is what we want.

"That's not to forget that Nathan Harris is right in behind them. We have got three very, very good hookers two of whom there is nothing between. They're both world-class which is great," he said.

In the propping stakes, the loosehead position would see Joe Moody back, after a disappointing year with injuries, and competing with Tu'inukuafe and possibly Hames for the starting role.

"Super Rugby is going to be very important for them next year," he said.

The tighthead position had Owen Franks with Laulala in behind him. But Dowd said the one person he felt was the key was Ofa Tuungafasi because he had the ability to play both sides of the scrum and that was a treat at Test level for a selector.
"To know that you have a player who can cover both sides at the highest level is very, very important," he said.

The real motor of the tight five were locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and they were crucial to the success of the All Blacks.

"They do bring fear factor, they're experienced at the set-piece and lineout and they play like loose forwards. They're not your traditional tight forward who lumbers around the park and does their set-piece. They've got the skills at the highest level," he said.

Behind them Scott Barrett had emerged by muscling in and taking the position off some very good players.

"He's the one who's going to be on the bench and in behind that there's Patrick Tuipulotu, who will also need a big Super Rugby campaign, but he's certainly a big man and he can offer a lot," he said.

In terms of preparation in a World Cup year Dowd said the front five all needed to find a new level.

"Physically they've got to be at the top of their game. They're going to have to be feared, they're going to have to be dominating all through the competition and when they get to their top, they've got to go up again.

"We talk about peaking but I think in a World Cup year you really push yourself harder than you've pushed yourself before. It can be done and it's about finding new fitness levels. It's about finding personal gains in the gym and increasing your strength.

"All that work is going to be done in the off season but when you hit the pitch come Super Rugby…I don't believe in pacing, the year is going to fly by and you're either there or you're not there," he said.

Dowd felt the All Blacks would go into their summer break hurting because of the finish to their season. He felt fatigue was a factor in their falling off towards the end of the season and they would be aware of that.

There had been a lot of talk during the November tour about looking 12 months ahead to the World Cup and when that was happening while you were trying to get up for tough Test matches at the end of your season it was hard.

"They'll move on from that, learn from it, and if anything it puts them in better stead knowing they did drop their standards," he said.