The 'straight dog' that's leading the All Blacks
SPOTLIGHT: New Zealand loose forward Dalton Papalii has praised the form of stand-in All Blacks captain Brodie Retallick – labelling him “a straight dog”.
Retallick has built himself into good form for the All Blacks season after returning from an 18-month sabbatical in Japan with the Kobelco Steelers.
The lengthy lay-off abroad meant it took some time for the 87-test veteran to get himself back to his best in the Test arena, but he has done just that after a series of impressive performances against the Wallabies and Los Pumas in recent weeks.
Arguably his best outing of the year in the black jersey came during his side’s 39-0 thumping of Argentina on the Gold Coast on Sunday, a match of which Retallick captained the All Blacks for the first time in his career in the absence of Ardie Savea.
In a testament of Retallick’s recent form, longevity and classy ability, Papalii told reporters on Monday described the 30-year-old lock as “a straight dog” as he struggled to recall the last time he played a poor match for the All Blacks.
“Oh man, he’s a straight dog,” Papalii, who has played frequently alongside Retallick this season after struggling for game time at international level since 2018, said.
“He’s a guy who’s relentless in training, especially in the game. Every game you go into with him, you know you’re going to get 110 percent. I think he’s been playing some unreal footy.
“To be honest, when I say that, he’s always been playing unreal footy. It’s hard to think if he ever had an average or a bad game, so he’s just a straight dog.”
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When asked to clarify what he meant by brandishing Retallick with such a label, Papalii said it meant he had respect for his teammate’s style of play.
“Someone who is just ruthless in their preparation and the way they play. It doesn’t mean anything bad. When I say someone’s playing like a dog, I mean it’s respect to them,” he said.
With five starts for the All Blacks this season, Papalii has played more tests in 2021 alone than he had in the three years beforehand since his international debut against Japan in 2018.
It also means the nine-test flanker has enjoyed extensive game time with other players that he normally lines up against at Super Rugby level.
Among those players are Savea, who sat out Sunday’s win over Los Pumas due to concussion concerns from the final Bledisloe Cup clash in Perth a week-and-a-half ago, and Luke Jacobson, who started at No 8 at Cbus Super Stadium in Savea’s place.
Papalii said has been invaluable playing alongside both of those players given their leadership, experience and talent.
“It’s awesome building those new connections with those players going forward,” the 23-year-old said.
“You watch them on TV and you sometimes think, ‘Imagine if they were in my team’, and all of that, but it’s just bloody awesome to be the same team as some of the best flankers in the world.”
With more exposure in test rugby alongside players of that calibre, Papalii’s confidence is brimming as he looks to keep an iron grip on the All Blacks No 7 jersey as the incumbent Sam Cane continues his long-term recovery from a chest injury.
“It’s been awesome. The confidence is starting to grow, definitely. Starting to get a few minutes under the belt, and so the confidence is building and I feel like I’m not really holding back anymore. I’m just fully amongst it,” he said.
“The body’s pretty banged up. That was a physical bloody game against those Argies, so the body’s feeling it.”
By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass