Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The farmers in the front row

By WYNNE GRAY

When Tony Woodcock surged into the All Black trial as a substitute, there was time for a quick nod to hooking colleague Andrew Hore.

It was a sort of rural mason's greeting as well as an understanding about their past. Then it was down to business, grappling in those murky meetings of muscle and mind in rugby's front row.

On Wednesday the pair were congratulated as All Blacks once again after both had missed the honour last year.

Rural New Zealand could breathe again, it was represented once more in a team which used to be dominated by men from the land.

Hore, the farmer from central Otago had Woodcock, a sheep and dairy farmer from near Kaukapakapa, as his mate.

During Super 12, Woodcock spends most of his time in Auckland. It is a practical solution to his current profession. But when those days are over Woodcock, like Hore, will return permanently to the land.

"I try and get back there as much as I can, although I might have eaten a bit too much of Mum's cooking this week before the trial," he added. "But I can't wait to get back to farm when all this is over, it's a great life."

Woodcock was a powerful but inexperienced 21-year-old when he was picked as an All Black for the 2002 tour to England, France and Wales. His chance came when others were injured or rested.

He even made his test debut in the 43-17 thumping of Wales alongside Keven Mealamu and Carl Hayman.

Woodcock locked limbs this week against Hayman at the national trial at Eden Park, another recycled international frontrower who is built like a lock.

"It can be a bit tricky because he is a big tall bugger," Woodcock said of his foe. "If you give him too much space he can whack into you."

The 23-year-old Woodcock was on for 30 minutes and, by his own admission, thought he had a solid workout without being extra-special.

Whatever happened, the All Black selectors liked what they saw from the specialist loosehead prop.

"This selection probably means more to me than the one two years ago," Woodcock said.

"I think I was picked too early then. It was great at the time but I have learned so much since then. It is all about miles on the clock and working through all sorts of different situations.

"It comes down to knowing what to do when you are confronted by all sorts of things."

During this Super 12 season, Woodcock was not quite happy with his technique. He spent time by himself on the scrum machine, working on his leg positions and the angle of his body.

Regular weight training had increased his power and he wanted to complement that with better routines. Advice last week from scrum guru Mike Cron at the All Black training camp in Palmerston North also helped.

In Woodcock's world, set-piece precision comes first, second and third. "If you do it right then it makes you more effective in the other stuff we have to do, you don't struggle round the track quite as much."

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