Ro­mano at home in bru­tal tests

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS - By Daniel Gil­hooly in Paris

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.

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