All Blacks won't be caught clock-watching

NZPA     24 Jun 2006    

And they may be guilty of not knowing the score either as neither the soccer stadium's timepiece or scoreboard were functioning when the Pumas beat Wales 45-27 there last weekend.

A vintage sweep hand clock remained stationary throughout the second Welsh Test and there was no indication from the All Blacks camp that the Argentinian Rugby Union or stadium officials were moving to rectify the situation.

All Blacks head coach Graham Henry jokingly suggested the management team could be expanded to include a specialist to operate a stopwatch and tally up the points.

On a serious note a team spokesman said the All Blacks would not be demanding both devices be operational by kick-off.

"We're not making any requests," he told NZPA.

The 50,000-capacity stadium is the third major soccer stadium in the Argentine capital following the cavernous 70,000-seat River Plate Stadium -- where the All Blacks played in 2001 -- and Boca Juniors' renowned La Bombonera.

Velez Sarsfield, home to the club of the same name, should provide an interesting 80 minutes or so for the All Blacks.

The ground appears about 6m shorter than a standard 100m rugby field, prompting the All Blacks to modify their kicking games.

Assistant coach Wayne Smith said the field was also noticeably narrower than what the All Blacks usually encounter so "obviously it will be harder to go around the outside of defenders".

After sitting in the stands as interested observers last weekend the starting 15 -- and also late-arriving reserves -- will have a chance to acclimatise to the ground conditions during tomorrow's captain's run.

In another quirk of the stadium, the ball is likely to be wet regardless of perfect overhead conditions.

A moat runs along one side of the ground, acting as a barrier between the crowd and playing surface.

The trade-off with increased security is the ball needs to be fished out of the algae-clogged water and towelled off by a ballboy if it is punted into the channel.

Spectators at either end of the stadium are also caged in behind fences and water cannons are on hand to cool down irate fans.

Meanwhile, the pull of the soccer World Cup threatens to keep the crowd size down.

Although the All Blacks are expecting to confront a full house, local media reported only 6000 seats had been pre-sold yesterday.

The Wales game attracted only 12,000 fans and the All Blacks test dovetails with Argentina's second round sudden-death soccer clash against Mexico in Germany, which kicks off less than four hours before the Pumas take the field.