10 Oct 2015

All Blacks create a buzz in small-town England

11:40 am on 10 October 2015

The British market town of Darlington welcomed the All Blacks with open arms ahead of their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Tonga.

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow during the All Blacks World Cup match against Namibia, 2015.

Halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow during the All Blacks World Cup match against Namibia, 2015. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Local school children gave the team a warm welcome at the Darlington Mowden Park Rugby Club, where more than 5,000 turned out to see them run coaching drills with some young local players.

It was clear the visit was a big occasion for the town, with the All Blacks plastered all over the local newspaper.

All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow said it was a great reception, with many more people attending than the club is used to for its home games every Saturday.

"Their president said they get about 150 people usually, and a cat and a goat," Kerr-Barlow said.

"We always enjoy getting amongst the children because they're some of our biggest fans, and we were children once, so it's a really good turnout."

The team have since moved on to Newcastle, where they will be playing Tonga on Saturday morning.

While the All Blacks were relaxed around the fans, they are well aware their supporters back home are desperate to see a dominant performance against Tonga after a mixed start to the tournament.

They are yet to put out the complete performance on the field but this weekend's captain Kieran Read said they're not trying to focus too much on that.

"If things click, certainly we'll be happy, but we know there's structures in place that allow us to play well and there's certain things in our skill sets that have to come off to make us play well and if they don't then it doesn't look as good as we might think," Read said.

"But we just want to go out there and play."

Tonga too have a lot to play for as they look to restore some pride after what's been a miserable tournament for the Pacific Island sides.

The three Island teams only have a win each going into the final weekend, and while Fiji were unlucky to be drawn in the toughest pool, both Samoa and Tonga have performed below expectations.

Tongan captain Nili Latu said their losses to Georgia and Argentina have made for a disappointing campaign so far.

"We came into this World Cup with different ideas, but it hasn't really gone the way we hoped," Latu said.

"But we can still finish the tournament on a high note by playing well against the All Blacks this Friday."

This weekend there are some other big matches with Wales jostling with Australia to top the pool of death, and Scotland trying to secure a place in the final eight with their match against Samoa.

While the All Blacks management have had a good opportunity to look at other teams throughout the pool phase and assess who their main threats might be, coach Steve Hansen said they could not read much into the way teams have performed so far.

"I don't think you can read too much into the pool play," Hansen told reporters.

"You just have to say, Wales and Australia have achieved what they've wanted, they've qualified.

"New Zealand and Argentina have achieved what they wanted, they qualified, but the next round's serious, because if you don't win you go home - and not everyone's going to win."

Hansen says members of the coaching staff will attend the match between France and Ireland in Cardiff, with the All Blacks likely to meet the losers in the quarter-final at Millennium Stadium next week.