Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Deadly duo must be contained

How well the All Blacks can contain the powerful David Pocock (pictured), will go a long way to determining tonight's result. Pictures / Getty Images.
How well the All Blacks can contain the powerful David Pocock (pictured), will go a long way to determining tonight's result. Pictures / Getty Images.

Ask Warren Gatland about a Bledisloe Cup battle plan to smother the Wallabies and his gaze narrows to two men.

He isolates David Pocock and Will Genia, the Wallaby captain and his deputy, for special All Black attention as they begin their trophy defence tonight in Sydney.

Gatland identifies Kurtley Beale and Digby Ioane as others to be monitored closely.

However, the knot of crucial players had been splintered by the non-selection of Quade Cooper and the injury defections of James Horwill and James O'Connor.

Two months ago, the Wales and impending Lions coach eventually got to survey the Wallaby talent up close after breaking both heels in an accident at his Waihi bach.

"The Wallabies have a group of players who are dangerous but without all of them they are a bit vulnerable," Gatland said.

"They have the x-factor and firepower together, but when some are missing they are a little exposed."

Openside flanker Pocock and halfback Genia were the core of the Wallabies, class players whose performances were the barometer for the side's results.

If they were contained, the Wallabies lost traction.

The Australian sports propaganda machine led the cheerleading about the Wallabies' merits and they were champions at convincing referees of their virtues.

"They are confident even if they are vulnerable. They never show that side at all," Gatland added.

The Wallabies' best chance was if they shifted the game away from a set piece or attritional style.

Former All Black coach Wayne Smith noted they had shed some of their unpredictable nature and had kicked away far too much ball the last time the sides met in the World Cup semifinal.

He wrote on the Rugby Site that the All Blacks now carried that weapon of surprise.

"They can move defences deep with the power of their kicking game or they can come at you from any part of the pitch.

"The continued unpredictability of New Zealand makes the World Cup winners favourites to win the inaugural Rugby Championship."

Both he and Gatland zeroed in on Genia as the man to control the tempo of Wallaby fortunes. "He is a very smart player," said Gatland.

"We had the referees come to us [in the Wales series] and tell us they got caught out by his positioning because Genia used the referee as a shield close to rucks and mauls."

World Cup final referee Craig Joubert was another who noted the scheme and felt the pace of the tests was up another level from much of the Super 15.

He was sure the All Blacks had noted that tactic and would have alerted tonight's Irish referee Alain Rolland to the ploy.

The other Wallaby the All Blacks needed to subdue was their skipper, Pocock. "He's a real threat, he's powerful over the ball and destructive, if you can nullify him and keep him out of the game you go a long way to getting a result," Gatland said.

Another crucial area for the match officials to monitor was the Wallaby scrum.

Wales felt they had their measure and were disappointed they were awarded free kicks rather than full penalties for their superiority.

"The Wallabies saw that as a win for them. If they didn't get a good hit or felt like they were on skates, they dropped it.

"They had their line ready to repel tap kicks if we chose that."

Gatland felt the repeat breaches should have earned full penalties.

- NZ Herald

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