Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Woodcock ready for vital clash

Tony Woodcock. Photo / Getty Images
Tony Woodcock. Photo / Getty Images

When All Black prop Tony Woodcock eyed the scrum contest with the Sharks he figured he and his Blues buddies would be embroiled in a battle royal with the du Plessis brothers.

But part of that equation altered yesterday with revelations Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis had damaged his groin at training and would not be joining brother Jannie for tonight's Eden Park scrap between two underperforming sides.

Woodcock was a late starter this Super 15 season but has snapped back into strong form in a rare department where the Blues have been dominant. He credited his extra break with giving him renewed vitality for the year ahead.

"I think it was huge, coming back in and feeling so fresh and keen to play footy again, instead of thinking, 'Oh, here we go again.'

"The mental part of the game is huge and that's where I think I got the biggest gains in my time away.

"I think it is bloody important because if you are keen and fresh and have a spring in your step, you are going to be there doing your job a little bit faster."

He fingered the Sharks' scrum as one of the visitors' strengths but reckoned the Blues were very much in sync with that part of their game.

"In the last couple of weeks we have dominated at scrum time, and nothing against the guys we were playing [the Hurricanes and Rebels] but this might be another level.

"We are obviously in a bit of a hole and we need to get our confidence back with a good performance and result. We have just been letting ourselves down. But we're confident we have the players and have been doing things right off the field.

"We have been losing by small margins but we are not helping ourselves with cumulative mistakes on the park."

While the Sharks have lost their influential skipper, they have regained young five-eighths Patrick Lambie, who missed their last two matches with a facial injury.

He will duel with Gareth Anscombe and while Lambie said he did not know much about his young opponent, he'd made a great start to his Super 15 career against the Bulls and that said a great deal about his ability.

He was part of a Blues backline full of game breakers and strong ball carriers like Ma'a Nonu who would test the Sharks' defence.

Visiting coach John Plumtree said both teams were under heat to get a result. The Sharks' erratic chart meant they were losing contact with the Stormers and Bulls who led their conference. It was often hard to extricate teams from a losing or wayward results line.

"It is important we get into a groove and start winning otherwise we will be chasing results in our pool," Plumtree said.

Both the Blues and Sharks would be highly motivated for this match and once the hooha disappeared after some early phases, they would settle into trying to find a victory.

- NZ Herald

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