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All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu hails Wayne Smith influence

Published 27/10/2015

Wayne Smith, second left, has been hailed as a vital cog in New Zealand's drive to defend their World Cup title
Wayne Smith, second left, has been hailed as a vital cog in New Zealand's drive to defend their World Cup title

Former England target Wayne Smith has been hailed as a driving force in New Zealand's bid to make history by retaining the World Cup.

Much-vaunted defence specialist Smith would have joined England's backroom staff had Nick Mallett succeeded Martin Johnson four years ago.

The former Northampton coach left the All Blacks' set-up after the 2011 World Cup triumph, but later joined Super Rugby franchise the Chiefs, spurning Stuart Lancaster's overtures to join his England staff.

Smith guided the Chiefs to Super Rugby success before returning to the All Blacks and adding an extra level of frugality to Steve Hansen's already mean-spirited rearguard cordon.

"It's been pretty good having Smithy back in the camp," said hooker Keven Mealamu, preparing for his final All Blacks match in Saturday's World Cup final against Australia.

"With guys understanding their roles, he's been able to put some good systems in place for us.

"But it's just been good having good old Smithy back.

"Wayne's got a really good rapport with the players.

"He's a very smart man.

"He sees a lot of things a player doesn't usually pick up on and he's great at getting his teaching across.

"It's been really handy having him back.

"His attention to detail really adds to the coaching group we've had for the last couple of years."

New Zealand have conceded just three tries throughout their inexorable march to a second successive World Cup final.

The All Blacks will become the first side to retain the Webb Ellis Cup with victory this weekend, with Richie McCaw set to go down as the best captain in the history of the game.

Veteran hooker Mealamu will end his All Blacks career in Saturday's World Cup final, likely to earn his 132nd cap off the bench.

Along with Dan Carter, McCaw, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith, the 36-year-old is aiming to exit the Test arena in unrivalled style.

The All Blacks have been at excruciating pains not to hype up their emotions ahead of facing Michael Cheika's Wallabies.

Mealamu reiterated the party line that the All Blacks will only address the reality of the passing of a clutch of all-time greats once Saturday's match is done and dusted.

The Blues hooker did however admit he had no idea he would be able to stretch out his Test career for another four years when New Zealand claimed the 2011 title.

"It wasn't until the next year that I even started to consider it," said Mealamu.

"For a personal goal I thought how amazing it would be to go to another.

"With the opportunity to play in another final, I'm close to that goal.

"I'm just really pleased to be in this position, to have the opportunity to do this."

Insisting New Zealand must strike out all thoughts of glory and complete their meticulous preparations, Mealamu said: "I just think it's an exciting challenge that we're really walking towards.

"We've got an opportunity to do it, so there's still plenty of days we need to make sure we get right to enable us to do what we want to achieve.

"It's a pretty cool opportunity."

All Blacks and Blues team-mate Charlie Faumuina hinted at past mistakes in mistaking Mealamu's relaxed exterior for an avuncular air.

"He seems like a quiet guy but then he has this stare that puts you back in line," said prop Faumuina.

"It will be awesome to play alongside him for his last All Blacks game.

"He's been a big part of my career, so to hopefully get out there alongside him again for one last time will be awesome."

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