All Blacks: Time to tighten the screws

By Wynne Gray

Rocky Elsom and the Wallabies face a Richie McCaw-led All Blacks side that are strong favourites to win tonight's first Bledisloe Cup match. Photo / Getty Images
Rocky Elsom and the Wallabies face a Richie McCaw-led All Blacks side that are strong favourites to win tonight's first Bledisloe Cup match. Photo / Getty Images

A new Underbelly series will move into production if the All Blacks are sporting victims tonight in Melbourne.

It will be a crime if they do not continue the work they started against the Springboks, a disappointment if they do not strangle their nearest, Wallaby, rivals.

Gunfire was the supreme weapon in the gangland turf wars around Melbourne but the All Blacks will look to their trinity of pace, power and possession to dismantle Australia.

It is no done deal. Bookies have the All Blacks as strong favourites to extend their seven straight victories against their transtasman opponents.

But they will note in Melbourne that the All Blacks have lost two of their three tests against the Wallabies.

Fair cop - but dodgy results have infected the southern sporting landscape.

It is close to the 30-year anniversary of the day the New Zealand cricket side was stitched up by Greg Chappell in the Underarm one-dayer down the road at the MCG.

Inquiries into the Storm league salary cap breaches have plenty of distance to run.

Already there have been questions about the surface for tonight's test at Etihad Stadium, with fears the unstable surface will negate any effective scrummaging.

Now wouldn't that suit the Wallabies. They are under the pump on all fronts.

ARU chief executive John O'Neill has been barking about results, coach Robbie Deans knows this is the litmus test for his side while the Rebels want a leg-up in their push towards their Super 15 debut.

It is a perfect time for the All Blacks to turn the screw, to let the fleas of doubt infest their annual rivals.

However you slice it, whatever methods you use to compare the teams, the All Blacks are in front. The one factor which no one can quantify or predict, the one area which often decides rugby internationals is the players' mental approach.

The Wallabies are ready and the All Blacks say they are. They maintain they have shed the glow of convincing wins to start the Tri-Nations and are ready to claim their 12th win on the trot since losing to the Boks in Hamilton last season.

Sift through the teams and compare individuals.

The Wallabies square off in many roles and may get points decisions at halfback through Will Genia, captain Rocky Elsom and perhaps Nathan Sharpe.

But Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn, Kieran Read, Daniel Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Cory Jane should be superior in their duties to claim the advantage.

Totally unscientific of course and just another of the topics, issues and talking points which litter the leadup to the 80 minutes of action.

The Wallabies will bring a different type of test from the Boks. They will be patient, they will niggle and probe, they will look for mismatches on defence and keep playing. As long as they can survive at the scrums, they will be in the test.

The All Blacks' job is to spook them early. They'll want to get their forwards into the inside defensive channels to test the lighter frames of Matt Giteau and Berrick Barnes.

Route One, up the middle of the track, might also be a favoured combat zone where they can force the Wallaby forwards and Genia out of play before moving wide.

So far, both sides have gone for the all-singing, all-running lung-busting routines as their 2010 choice of tactics. Nothing suggests they will deviate much from that formula tonight especially as the closed roof at Etihad will eliminate any rain.

Both sides are coming off last test victories.

It will not get any easier for next week's rematch in Christchurch but one team will be more at ease with victory in their accompanying luggage.

- NZ Herald

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