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Locks thriving on challenges ahead

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Lynn McConnell     16 Jun 2017     Getty Images

While it is very much a 'getting-to-know-you-again' game for the pair, the way in which they have so quickly harmonised may have a lot to do with the challenge they face in this year's June-July campaign.
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Initially, their attention has been getting back into international mode after their respective Investec Super Rugby campaigns.

Retallick said when playing for the franchises all the All Blacks material got put at the back of the mind so when coming back together for Test matches there was a refresher process, in sifting the details that were different from what they did in the franchises.

Among the details there wasn't too much that was different from last year, they were trying to build into it and not cover off too much too quick and making sure they were clear for the Samoan Test because they didn't want to be over-thinking it, he said.

Whitelock appreciated Friday's challenge. The Samoans, when they played the All Blacks in Apia in 2015, had put a lot of pressure on the side, they had tried to overload the forward area and had their big players running very direct lines and they had a smart kicking game.

"Brodie and I have to front early and hopefully if we can do that it can put some pressure back on them rather than a couple of years ago when they managed to put pressure on us," he said.

Retallick said they were well aware of the physicality the Samoans would bring and they had talked about it. They didn't expect their line speed would be as quick as the Lions while Whitelock said it was a case of getting nice and low against them.

"In the back of our minds we know what is coming over the next few weeks but the game on Friday is going to be great for us. Obviously it is our first hit out of 2017 and I think we've found previously that we've found some work-ons out of that first Test which hasn't always clicked the way we want it to. It's still an All Blacks Test and we know if we get things right on Friday night it is going to make it easier the following week," he said.

Part of their preparation process was adapting to a new captain, Ben Smith.

Whitelock said Smith was a player the rest of the side picked energy up off. He had been doing a great job with the Highlanders and would bring the lessons learned into the All Blacks. He had been captain in the later part of games previously and he had his own style and the players appreciated his approach.

Leadership was something Whitelock could appreciate a little more after becoming full-time skipper of the Crusaders this year.

Whitelock said his own exposure as a leader in the Crusaders-Lions game had reinforced the need to help out his players throughout the week before and by doing that it was possible to help them more during the game.

He had enjoyed taking on more of the leadership role and understanding his players better and what made them tick. That provided its own questions of him.

If someone was playing well, how did he encourage them to keep doing that and if someone dropped a ball how did he help them get back out there and play the way he knew they could?

"It's something I've worked on pretty hard this year so far and hopefully I can bring some of that stuff to this environment," he said.

Retallick said it was great looking across the All Blacks' leadership group to see how many were Super franchise captains and what that meant was that all the pressure didn't just go on Kieran Read, or Ben Smith this week, as captain. If everyone shared the load a bit it made the captain's job a little easier.

"I can definitely see the captaincy has been a great thing for Sammy," he said.

And once the Samoa Test has been completed on Friday there was the challenge the Lions would present.

"It's very exciting. We've heard a lot about the Lions, seen a lot about the Lions and they've played a fair amount of games so far. It would be nice to hear people talking about the All Blacks doing well, but obviously time will tell," Retallick said.