Romano at home in brutal tests
It has taken a while but Luke Romano reckons he’s now mentally and physically honed for the rigours of test rugby. Romano gets a shot at filling the giant boots of absent lock Brodie Retallick when the All Blacks face France in Paris this morning [NZT].
The 31-year-old and long-time Crusaders locking partner Sam Whitelock, 29, will be the oldest New Zealand second-row combination since Ali Williams and Brad Thorn combined for 2011 World Cup opener against Tonga.
Romano has been largely shut out since his debut a year later, having played second fiddle to Retallick and Whitelock, indisputably one of the finest New Zealand pairings at lock.
Injury and rotation have allowed sporadic appearances and test No 30 comes at a time when the qualified builder finally feels settled in topflight rugby.
“I think I’m at that stage now that I feel like I’m accustomed to the game,” he said.
“When you start off, you’re a bit daunted and you get a little bit physically out-muscled.
“I feel like I’ve grown into that side of the game and I feel like I can go out and impose myself. That’s been happening the last year or so, especially at Super Rugby.”
Romano’s extra physicality won him selection over another Crusaders lock Scott Barrett.
He’ll play the test as if it’s his last — a method he has long employed.
“It’s not a chip on your shoulder. It’s that added edge that I might not get another one for a wee while.”
Five days after the tour-opening win over the Barbarians, Romano was still sporting a black eye picked up in the game.
To ensure his stitches were good enough to hold together against the physical French, the teak-tough Romano asked teammate Vaea Fifita to test them out at practice.
“Vaea smacked me on Tuesday, he got me flush on it and it held together so it’s good to go,” Romano said.
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has tapped into the French rugby psyche and he doesn’t like what he sees.
The old cliche of unpredictable France has genuine merit, Hansen says, believing Les Bleus have an ability to play above themselves that no international team can match.
The key is whether the hosts have found a cause to unite them, as has been the case in famous wins over the All Blacks.
Those sort of upsets are becoming less frequent in the stone-cold professional age.
“They definitely need big emotional value in whatever they’re doing,” Hansen said. “They’re a side, more so than anyone else, when they decide to get up against whoever they’re playing, they’ve got the talent and the ability to make you look silly.
“They’ve created some heartache along the way.”
The All Blacks are on their longest winning streak against France since a 2009 boilover in Dunedin.
Throwing uncertainty over this week’s encounter is the naming of a raw French side that features six new caps and two young halves who are both making their first test start.
Hansen believes such a selection could go either way.
Because it’s France, he won’t take anything for granted.
“Their squad’s pretty talented, know that,” he said.
“That’s the French way of life. It’s cool when it’s cool and, ‘oh well, c’est la vie’, when it’s not.”
One possible French focus could be the game being played on the 99th anniversary of Armistice Day.
New Zealand have lost twice to France on that date, in 1977 and 1995, in Toulouse on both occasions.
France also lifted for a famous win at Eden Park on Bastille Day in 1979.
To mark the occasion, the All Blacks will wear the RSA poppy on their sleeve and the Dave Gallaher Trophy will be on the line.
Gallaher, the captain of the Original All Blacks, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele during World War I.
Luke Romano says he’ll play today’s match against France in Paris as if it is his last.