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04th Jul 2017

New Zealand’s way of deciding who sits back of the team bus is proper order

Top of the food chain

Patrick McCarry

“This is where the big dogs sit!”

At 6-foot-8, Malcolm O’Kelly has always towered over most men. Still, his size did little for him when, as a 21-year-old, he first trained with the Ireland squad. After one of his first training sessions, the Leinster lock boarded the Ireland team bus and did not dare head down the back.

It wasn’t his time. No yet anyway.

Holding court, back in ’96, was a quartet that included Keith Wood, Mick Galwey, Peter Clohessey and Gabriel Fulcher.

Fast forward on two decades and the back of the bus had a distinctly Leinster feel. Ahead of the 2015 World Cup, Jordi Murphy told SportsJOE who the alpha dogs were. He commented:

“It’s usually Rob Kearney, Paulie (O’Connell) and Cian Healy. That’s the back row and you are not going to be able to sneak in there with those boys. Drico (Brian O’Driscoll) was there until last year. Faces come and go but the seats remain the same.”

Rob Kearney, Brian O'Driscoll and Cian Healy 16/3/2014

On the 2013 Lions Tour, those four Irishmen were never far from the back row. Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins occasionally got in there too.

On the 2017 Lions Tour, you’ll often find Welsh lads down the back. Different pictures from tour photographers Inpho show Rhys Webb, Mako Vunipola, James Haskell and Elliot Daly all down the back. Wales Ken Owens appears to be the constant.

As for the New Zealand team bus, there are two men calling most of the shots. As Ardie Savea said, back in Dublin last November:

“Getting on the team bus is pretty exciting for the new fellas but pretty nerve-wracking too.

“The coaches normally take up the first two rows, after the driver, then it’s the new fellas.

“It’s based on Test caps so whatever number you have, the further back you sit. Back down here is where the big dogs sit – Reado [Kieran Read], Jerome [Kaino], Owey [Owen Franks].”

Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock were pictured holding a post-training discussion down the back of the All Blacks bus and one would want to have a heap of credit, or respect, in the bank to stop them full-flow.

At 2.03 metres [6-foot-8] and weighing over 120kg, an up-and-coming All Black would want to have a mighty high opinion of himself to try shift 87-times capped Whitelock from his perch.

As for Kieran Read – one shy of Test cap 100 – don’t even try it.

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