Rugby World Cup: Wallabies unfazed by Eden Park hoodoo

James Horwill. Photo / Brett Phibbs
James Horwill. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It was a perfect demonstration of how to deflect attention from themselves and attempt to heap more pressure on the already worry-laden All Blacks.

An Australian quintet of skipper James Horwill, former captain Rocky Elsom, Quade Cooper, David Pocock and James O'Connor delivered their lines almost seamlessly today.

They will hope Sunday's World Cup semifinal against the All Blacks follows their script and not the one written by four million New Zealand fans.

The Wallabies tried very hard to demystify the task of playing the All Blacks, as well as the challenge of winning at a ground they haven't won at since 1986. That's 12 consecutive Eden Park defeats.

The All Blacks might be expected to win on Sunday and that suits the Wallabies fine, thank you very much, especially as they have a pretty good record against their transtasman rivals in World Cup semifinals (1991 and 2003) and won the last time these two sides met.

"Do the players talk about the ghosts, the graveyard of Eden Park?" one enthusiastic reporter asked Elsom. "I didn't know there were any ghosts there," Elsom deadpanned.

There was only one slip-up, when Cooper referred to the All Blacks as the "best team in the world".

Elsom soon corrected that when probed on the phraseology. "I said they were ranked No 1. The best team in the world is the team that win the World Cup and we're all trying to do that.

"They are the No 1-ranked team in the world and they are in a country that expects them to win the World Cup. Regardless of what happens, the public expects that. You get a feeling around town they expect nothing less."

History would suggest the public were right to hold that view, considering it's been 25 years since Australia won at Eden Park and the All Blacks have won two out of every three tests between the two nations.

But history also shows the All Blacks have failed to win the World Cup in about the same time.

Both camps have their own injury concerns. On the same day Richie McCaw took a very limited part in team training and many punters jumped to conclusions after the sight of Canterbury tearaway Matt Todd at the All Blacks session, fullback Kurtley Beale (hamstring) and prop Sekope Kepu (ankle) were absent from Wallabies training.

Beale is the player most in doubt, and he would be a significant loss for them if unfit to play. But coach Robbie Deans has options with Adam Ashley-Cooper and O'Connor the most likely candidates.

The news was more hopeful on centre Pat McCabe, who trained fully today, and Kepu was confident of being ready in time.

The Australians are sore after a brutal quarter-final win over South Africa but they are still alive. Sixteen teams have already gone home.

"We are in the semifinals and have the chance to get to the final," Horwill said. "We are happy as a group how we are going.

"This tournament is about winning and we have made it to where we are one win away from the big game."

With that, the posse of Australian players exited stage right. There was no applause despite a distinguished performance. But there would have to be some acclaim if they won on Sunday night.

- APNZ

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