Rugby: Clash of foes feast for All Black eyes

By Wynne Gray

James O'Connor is likely to be fielding much of the Wallabies' kicking. Photo / Getty Images
James O'Connor is likely to be fielding much of the Wallabies' kicking. Photo / Getty Images

Not long after the All Blacks reach their Melbourne hotel tonight, they'll switch on the telecast of their next Wallaby foes starting their Tri-Nations diet against the Boks.

About two hours and a 1350km plane trip north, the All Black coaches will settle into their Suncorp Stadium seats, clicking in their rugby computers to note some of the nuances of their next opponents.

That panel of Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen had completed, by the middle of last week, the bulk of their planning for the All Blacks' next clash against the Wallabies in Melbourne. Their detour north tonight was to check on some of the Wallaby patterns, players and style.

Nothing like concentrating on a few players when television cameras are pointing elsewhere. It is all part of the exhaustive work the Three Wise Men undertake as they compile dossiers on their Tri-Nations foes.

The focus tonight will be on the Wallabies and what they are up to this season. They have been out of action for a month since they beat Ireland to give them three wins and a loss to England this season.

The Wallabies have regained loosehead prop Benn Robinson, lock Nathan Sharpe and outstanding halfback Will Genia, rejigged their backline and promised plenty. They need to if ARU chief John O'Neill's results pleas are taken seriously.

Watching the Wallabies game plan will be fascinating. How much will they emulate the All Blacks?

The All Blacks' successful blueprint was to run back wayward Springbok kicks, scrum and tackle the Boks hard and veer away from lineouts. They stunned the Tri-Nations champions and collected two bonus point wins.

So what level of strategic flattery will we see from the Wallabies and do they have the manpower?

They have some gifted runners. Genia, Quade Cooper, Matt Giteau, Rob Horne, James O'Connor, Drew Mitchell and Adam Ashley-Cooper are an athletic attacking force.

But they cannot be expected to win this test and consign the Boks to a 0-6 record at Suncorp Stadium since professional rugby began unless the Wallaby pack do the business. Numbers one to eight hold the key for the Wallabies.

A looseforward group of Richard Brown, David Pocock and Rocky Elsom is vigorous and capable. Ahead of them lie the question marks, the locks and front row.

Robinson is a world-class loosehead prop, Saia Faingaa and Salesi Ma'afu are getting early sniffs of test rugby. Behind them Nathan Sharpe has the cunning earned during a long career, Dean Mumm is not long into that life.

But that quintet has to confront these Boks like the All Blacks did. They should niggle too after the implosions of Bakkies Botha and Danie Rossouw in New Zealand. Will the Boks keep hold of possession after seeing the rewards of that new ploy in the last half at Wellington or will Morne Steyn be asked to keep pounding the ball high with better chasers?

You fancy a fair chunk of the latter with much of the kicking aimed at young James O'Connor, who is very skilled but small and playing out of his normal role.

Then we come to the coaches, Robbie Deans and Peter de Villiers. Deans has to be calm and measured in his approach and instructions because the Wallabies have been out of action for so long.

De Villiers? Who knows what wacko theory will be forming in his brain but the Wallabies will want him to be more agitated so he infects the players.

Whatever happens, the All Black coaches and their fully fit squad will sit in their spots of the Sunburnt Country, soaking up this test knowing they will wake up tomorrow feeling no pain.

- NZ Herald

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