All Blacks: Someone please pass the cotton wool

If the All Blacks wanted a taste of the type of scrutiny they will find themselves under at the Rugby World Cup, they got their wish at the first training run of their campaign in Wellington yesterday.

Hot on the heels of the great airport stakeout on Sunday came news that Colin Slade, a man who has long been shipped around the rugby world in a box marked "fragile - handle with care", had been injured on the sodden field of the Hutt Rec. So much for the keep calm, carry on philosophy.

Turns out, of course, that Slade was fine - merely a "tweak" of the knee, as assistant coach Ian Foster reported later. But, just in case, they have cryogenically frozen him until the opening match.

There was also concern about an in-grown hair on the upper leg of midfielder Ma'a Nonu. Follicular expert Dr Marvin Heckford of the Pore Academy National Institute Cromwell (PANIC) said it was likely a result of long-term shaving.

"In this day and age I would expect these players to be waxing, rather than shaving," said Dr Heckford. "Consequences of a severely in-grown hair can range from mild discomfort to medium discomfort. That's not the sort of thing you'd like to see a professional athlete have to deal with."

When this theory was put to the manager of the team's well-being group, Gilbert Enoka, he noted that from now until the last day of the cup campaign he would personally oversee all forms of hair removal.

There was further drama in the capital this week when veteran captain Richie McCaw sneezed in the foyer of the team's hotel. According to several witnesses, McCaw, who is renowned for having never suffered an illness in his life, was visibly shaken by the "two-sneeze fit".

Amanda Baynan, a visitor to Wellington from Opotiki, said she could hardly believe her eyes.

"He seemed genuinely shocked by it all. I saw the whole thing and I swear, both times he sneezed he couldn't keep his eyes open."

Baynan, who is also a trained manicurist, added that his hands were "quite dirty" when he held them up to cover his mouth. She says the sneezing was all anyone could talk about that afternoon in the lobby.

"Someone pointed out that it was the first day of spring, and that could have had something to do with it, but I don't know - one sneeze, maybe, but two? I hope he is okay."

The All Blacks also suffered another hiccup yesterday, but muscle therapist George Duncan was quick to act, telling Wyatt Crockett to drink a glass of water backwards, and then to hold his breath.

Fortunately, the issue was resolved when Sonny Bill Williams jumped out from behind a plastic ficus tree and gave the big Canterbury prop forward a fright.

It wasn't all doom and gloom in the Rugby World Cup squad's first week in camp, however.

In what one onlooker described as "just a little bit of a comical misunderstanding, really" Waisake Naholo seemed visibly distressed after a fellow hotel guest was heard to utter the words, "break a leg" as the new All Blacks winger walked past.

The guest, Raumanga Amateur Reparatory president Samuel Gardner, said it was just bad timing.

"I was actually just finishing a pre-show talk with the leads of our touring production of Annie Get Your Gun when Naholo walked past," he said.

"I really had no idea who he was, and I certainly had no idea he had recently suffered a broken leg. When he realised that I wasn't actually talking to him we all had a good laugh and then he sang a few bars of Anything You Can Do with us and wandered off smiling."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the incident showed how prepared the All Blacks were for any situation.

"We've picked guys on their ability to adapt, because ultimately they'll have to adapt very quickly once we get to the World Cup. That's why each of our guys has a number of show tunes in their repertoire."

When pressed for his personal favourite, he admitted he was partial to the Bye Bye Birdie hit Put On A Happy Face".

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