Drained All Blacks rugby flanker Marty Holah says the carrot of playing against the British and Irish Lions will lift him for Saturday’s clash with the Barbarians in London.
Holah will take the field for the first time on what has seemed like an interminably long tour comprised of daily training while knowing there wasn’t a game waiting for him at the end of each of the first three weeks.
The straight-talking Waikato openside admitted he was mentally ready for a break and was disappointed to find himself confronting the same Australian and South African opponents he had played against all year in the Rebel Sport Super 12 and Philips Tri Nations.
While others this week have spoken glowingly of the honour of playing either for against the Barbarians, Holah didn’t bother with such platitudes, instead expressing hope that his limited match fitness would be enough to stay with the pace of what is sure to be a fast-moving game.
“It’s been a pretty long year and I think no matter what happens, no matter how much down time you get, you’re always pretty tired this time of year from the constant training,” Holah said.
With Richie McCaw sidelined earlier in the year with headaches, Holah was the No 1 openside through the early-season Tests and Tri Nations, performing to a consistently high standard.
McCaw’s return and exemplary form has not got Holah down, however, as he targets a place in next year’s squad to face the touring Lions.
“I don’t think that’s too far away from most guys’ minds, ” Holah said.
“The Lions tour only happens once every 12 years, just to be involved in that would be pretty awesome.
“It’s definitely a huge opportunity to put your name in front of the selectors this weekend.
“If you’re going to put your hand up, you might as well give it a crack now rather than waiting until the Super 12. You never know what’s going to happen in that competition.”
Holah has been “rapt” with the progress of the All Blacks on tour, particularly the 45-6 thumping of France in Paris.
He was disappointed not be required even on the bench for that game and that his return sees him probably line up against two familiar flanker foes — Australian Phil Waugh and South African Schalk Burger.
There are no British players in the Barbarians as clubs here have demanded the services of their players this weekend.
“It’s a little bit disappointing, it would have been quite good to maybe get a mix of northern hemisphere guys,” Holah said.
“If I had a choice to pick a side, I would have picked mostly guys from this region.
“It’s going to be a challenging game as it is, they won’t be a pushover side. I guess you have to look at it for what it is, just a challenge.”
The All Blacks trained today without hooker Corey Flynn, who strained his hamstring when he stood on the boot of teammate Jerome Kaino.
The fitness of Flynn, desperate to start his first game on tour, will be assessed again tomorrow.
Meanwhile, All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith will stay on for a week to catch up with friends and players at struggling Northampton, where he spent 2-1/2 years as director of rugby between his two All Blacks coaching stints.
Since he left, Northampton have plummeted to last place in the English club premiership.