Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: All Black forwards look for fear factor

Pack needs to atone for ordinary efforts against Aussies and England last year

Mercifully free of the Australian affliction of talk-ing more than performing, the All Blacks haven't made any grandiose statements about this year being the one where they want their forwards to become the dominant pack in world rugby.

They hope, however, that much becomes obvious tomorrow night.

There's no question the All Black forwards are wound up pretty tight - that they are counting the minutes until they can be let loose.

They need atonement for their lukewarm effort in their last clash with the Wallabies, but more than that, they want to build a reputation as a pack that is fearsome without the slightest hint of give.

This is the year the All Black pack wants to morph from a talented group of athletes with promise into a big black storm cloud that takes pleasure in travelling the globe to rain on parades.

There were signs during Super rugby that the likes of Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Luke Romano, in particular, have a different focus in 2013 - they seem to have a new-found appetite for destruction. Their business these days is proactive enforcement - they want to damage and own their opponents.

"They are maturing and tight forwards get better with age," says All Black coach Steve Hansen. "Sam has definitely been in great form all year, Luke has played well and Owen has played well for a long time.

"But there is definitely going to be a challenge there for them on Saturday. I think the Australians are going to front up and there is going to be a lot of emotion.

"We are going to have to be right on the job for the whole 80 to put our stamp on the game."

The messages to the All Black pack have been clear all week - now is their time to deliver.

If they are going to become renowned as the toughest pack in the game, they'd be best to start the mission tomorrow.

Much has been made of the All Blacks' new attacking plans but pass and run, kick and chase - they form only a part of the blueprint.

Underpinning everything will be the dynamism, accuracy, speed and brutality of the pack - particularly the tight five.

The scrummaging battle also sits as a potential game-changer. The new laws are the great unknown given that neither side is yet to play properly under them, but, again without saying as much, there's a suspicion the All Blacks fancy they have been dealt a trump card by the IRB.

"It is going to be pretty good, I think," says loosehead prop Tony Woodcock.

"There is going to be more pressure and the interesting thing will be what happens when the hooker goes to hook the ball? That is the opportunity for the other scrum to attack."

Given the damage the All Blacks have caused in the past scrummaging under the old laws - the chance to attack what will effectively be a seven-man Wallaby scrum on their put-in is a gift they can barely believe they have been given.

It's likely the All Blacks will see the scrum as their crow bar - a means to take chunks out of the Wallabies and inflict them with doubt, and then they will look to take a similarly dominant stance at the breakdowns and collisions.

By the final whistle, they hope South Africa and Argentina will have been forced to take notice and be removed of any notions that they can get on the front foot when they meet later in the Rugby Championship.

Changing perceptions is important as, denied the crunching presence of Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino, last year the All Black forwards lacked an element of intimidation: they were handy all right, but not the sort of unit that had the Boks or England waking up in cold night sweats.

In fact, the South Africans rattled the All Blacks in Dunedin with their physicality and presence while England had a foot on the throat for 80 minutes last year.

To be a great All Black side the forwards have to inflict as much psychological damage as they do physical.

They need to induce a touch of fear - carry a reputation for being ruthless. Technical excellence and athleticism are a must, but so too is a hint of volatility.

It's a potent cocktail - one the All Blacks hope to perfect this year.

nzherald.co.nz will have live updates of Saturday's Bledisloe Cup clash from 9.45pm. Join Steven Holloway for all the action for the opening Rugby Championship encounter.

- NZ Herald

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