Gregor Paul on rugby
Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Aussies look set to get physical

Rocky Elsom, normally a bruising handful, was a bit squishy in Auckland, as were most of his troops. Photo / Getty Images
Rocky Elsom, normally a bruising handful, was a bit squishy in Auckland, as were most of his troops. Photo / Getty Images

If there was one lesson taken by the Wallabies from their clash at Eden Park earlier this month, it was the need to harden up.

For all the pretty patterns and clever sleight of hand, the Wallabies couldn't trouble the All Blacks because they were some way off delivering the required physicality in the key areas of the game.

Rocky Elsom, normally a bruising handful, was a bit squishy in Auckland, as were most of his troops. The All Black pack controlled the collisions and, therefore, controlled the game and the Wallabies were sent to Africa with much to think about.

They absorbed the need to be more brutal, more aggressive and more dynamic and, for the first time this season, the Wallaby pack was snarling and impressive against the Boks.

The confidence gained by that win in Durban has been obvious listening to the positive commentary emanating from the Wallabies this week.

Whatever they were missing in Auckland, they believe they have found and if their performance gets anywhere near matching their self-generated hype, then the All Blacks are going to have to bring a particularly hard edge to their work.

And the prospect of facing a fired-up Wallaby pack with a point to prove is one that every All Black will relish. For all their talk and bluster, the Wallabies don't intimidate the All Blacks. While the likes of Adam Thomson and Brad Thorn were at pains to be respectful when asked about the likely storm threat, deep down they know they can handle even the most enraged work of the Wallabies.

That's not to say it will be easy or happen as a matter of course, but this All Black side has enjoyed 11 out of 13 wins against the Wallabies since 2008 and there is a quiet determination to maintain that dominance.

What helps immeasurably is that the Wallabies play a style that helps bring the best out of the All Blacks and it is a style the players enjoy.

"They are really good games of footy,'' says Thorn. "They have really high intensity. There is a real skill level between the two countries and it is quite aerobic. It's different to playing the Springboks - against the Wallabies it's really fast and you feel pretty drained by the end.''

The Wallabies will no doubt try to play high-tempo rugby on Saturday night. They seem to be at their best when they open up the contest and try to introduce fatigue into the final quarter. They are an open space side with finishers across their backline.

They will also be aware the bulk of the All Black squad landed in Brisbane from Port Elizabeth and will find it challenging to maintain an 80-minute blitz on Saturday.

"There is no doubt there is an advantage for the side sitting at home and waiting,'' says All Black coach Graham Henry. "They have had a week-and-a-half to prepare. It's the ideal situation for Australia.''

Ideal, though, hasn't usually been enough for the Wallabies in the immediate past. They faced the All Blacks in similar circumstances last year in Sydney and couldn't find the killer blow, and it was much the same the last time these two sides met in Brisbane.

The Wallabies went ahead in the final 15 minutes but couldn't close out when the All Blacks mounted one last big push. The Tri Nations is on the line and, having not won it since 2001, the Wallabies have every incentive to strike what they would feel is a reasonably significant psychological blow before the World Cup.

It all comes back, though, to whether they can front physically and at least hold their own in the contact areas.


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