All Black Dominic Bird’s unique insight into France ahead of RWC

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After pulling the plug from the French rugby club last year, two-try All Blacks lock Dominic Bird has returned to New Zealand with a bucket of good oil.

The message went something like this.

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Controversial tackle by England No 10 Owen Farrell used as an example of a shoulder charge.

Rather than just shedding the wax of sleep, the French rugby behemoth was already wide awake and advanced in his preparations for the World Cup on home soil in 2023.

Bird made around 70 appearances for French club Racing 92 in Paris between 2018 and 2021, before dropping back below the equator to join Wellington in the National Provincial Championship last year.

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And he has not been surprised by what has happened in France since his departure.

While many Kiwis were stunned to see the French dismantle the All Blacks 40-25 in Paris on November 20, followed by the Blues claiming the Six Nations title recently, Bird had already told anyone willing to listen that they would be a major force in testing.

“Absolutely. I told a lot of people after I came back last year that they were a real weapon,” Bird said. “It’s built through the French Top 14, that’s where it starts – in national rugby.

“The competition has increased enormously, and the performance levels have increased even in the three years I was there. It shows, going through the France team.”

Although Bird, who made Tests against Japan and Scotland in 2013 and 2014 and also made an appearance against a French XV in 2017, is under contract with the Hurricanes, he may not recover from surgery. to the shoulder he suffered this summer until the end of June.

Dominic Bird of the Chiefs forward during the game against the British and Irish Lions at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton in 2017.

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Dominic Bird of the Chiefs forward during the game against the British and Irish Lions at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton in 2017.

The 30-year-old, who played for the Chiefs and Crusaders before moving to the northern hemisphere, says talks with French players such as Racing 92 team-mate Bernard le Roux have reinforced what the team needs national was capable under coach Fabian Galthie since replacing Jacques Bruel after the 2019 World Cup.

Dominic Bird takes to the court while representing Lincoln University in the 2016 Christchurch Metro Club Final.

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Dominic Bird takes to the court while representing Lincoln University in the 2016 Christchurch Metro Club Final.

Standing 2.06m, Bird is listed as the tallest All Black ever recorded. In France, he said opposition teams were often tasked with heavier specimens than what he encountered in New Zealand.

“It’s a pretty simple equation, if you meet bigger guys it’s all a lot more physical,” he said. “We’re very well trained here in New Zealand. The skill level is just phenomenal, and that’s where our expertise and precision comes in.”

Canterbury's Dominic Bird runs out before the Ranfurly Shield against Southland in Christchurch in 2017.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

Canterbury’s Dominic Bird runs out before the Ranfurly Shield against Southland in Christchurch in 2017.

All Blacks fans are said to have grimaced at the sight of the French twice scoring the lineouts at the Stade de France on November 20, deepening their attacking technique and power to chew up the counters on the way to the try line.

During the long countdown to the world tournament, the question for the All Blacks will be whether they can formulate a plan that allows them to use their skills, fitness and mobility to their fullest potential and outsmart the France.

Bird, who lived on the outskirts of Paris while at Racing 92, played for 18 months before the arrival of Covid-19. In his final season, he was limited to 16 games in the Top 14 due to a neck injury.

Dominic Bird played for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in London in 2017.

Henry Browne

Dominic Bird played for the Barbarians against the All Blacks in London in 2017.

Intensity in training, even with a busy playing schedule, is part of the deal in French clubs.

Covid-19 exacerbated the amount of work players had to do. Racing 92, who lost to English club Exeter in the European Champions Cup final in Bird’s final season, have played for more than 12 months without a break.

Although ex-All Black Dan Carter left before he arrived, Bird had several familiar faces around him in Paris; former Chiefs mainstay Ben Tameifuna was on the list and former All Blacks free forward Chris Masoe is now on the coaching staff.

Scottish number 10 Finn Russell, an old friend from the New Zealand Bird days, was also at Racing 92.

The pair had played at the Lincoln University club in 2013, when Russell was at Canterbury’s high performance international unit.

“So I played a season with Finn a long time ago at the University of Lincoln Rams. It was pretty special,” Bird said.

“He was a machine then (at Lincoln). And he was just as good at dancing. He became a world-class number 10.”

Bird is a rare specimen, as few players have played in France and returned to the New Zealand national scene in recent years. Many head to Japan or, as Masoe did, follow the coaching route or retire.

One of the big challenges in France has been learning to cope with the workload.

“You just have to understand that it’s a real marathon,” Bird explained.

“It’s so long. You have 10 games in a season, and you’re not even halfway there. So you have to look at it in small blocks. You can’t get too stressed out about things – that’s another pair of sleeves.”

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