All Blacks winger Cory Jane has taken a leaf out of his coach's book and dared Wallabies five-eighth Kurtley Beale to defend in the front line against New Zealand in the opening Bledisloe Cup Test tonight.
As the All Blacks made last-minute changes to their back line to allow Conrad Smith to be with his wife for the birth of their first child yesterday, Jane fanned the flames of trans-Tasman rivalry with a backhanded endorsement of the Wallabies back-line general.
"We all miss tackles now and then," he said when asked about Beale's defensive capabilities.
"The Waratahs moved him out the back, but if he stands at No.10, that's where I reckon he's better to be.
"If you move him into the back field then there's opportunities to put kicks up, so I reckon if he stays there you've still got [Michael Hooper] who's a hell of a player inside of him, you've got great defenders outside of him, so he just needs to stand there."
Jane, whose man-of-the-match performance caused Australia so much pain in their 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final, will start on the wing, joining Julian Savea and fullback Ben Smith in a back three capable of causing serious chaos in Australia's defence tonight.
As Test rookie Malakai Fekitoa is ready to slot in at centre next to Ma'a Nonu if Smith is unable to return in time for the match at ANZ Stadium, Beale and No.12 Matt Toomua will have their work cut out in the midfield.
While the All Blacks might miss 77-Test veteran Smith's bank of experience and rugby brain, they will gain Fekitoa's explosive unpredictability. If Beale's shock selection at No.10 wobbled any apple cart in the All Blacks camp before Saturday's clash, the Fekitoa-for-Smith swap just upended that of the Wallabies.
Australia's defensive record improved sharply at the end of last season and was better again against France in June.
Beale, meanwhile, absorbed every hit and tackle at second-five for NSW and made what should have been ruled a try-saving tackle on Crusaders freight train Nemani Nadolo in the Super Rugby final.
Wherever he end ups in defence, there will plenty of work for the Australian playmaker.
At a skills session put on by team sponsor AIG, Jane - long considered the All Blacks' joker - laid it on thick.
"When you have the 'Big Bus' [Savea] running down at him, [Savea] is quite easy to tackle - you just hit him high and he's quite fragile," he said of the 195-centimetre winger who has notched 23 tries in 22 Test matches.
"I reckon [Beale] will be fine. That's what it is in New Zealand, you fire shots and stuff like that to get into each others' heads, but I'm not really into that, just go out there and play rugby and see what happens."
Jokes aside, there is no shortage of motivation for the All Blacks, and not just because it would be a record-breaking 18th win. As Jane put it: "If it was a game of marbles against Aussie I would want to win."
"When New Zealand play 'Aussie', we respect each other, but we want to beat them, we want that Bledisloe Cup," he said.
"I didn't get to play last year because I was injured, so I want to get back in there and have a taste. It's going to be an epic battle, because Aussie have played well over the last few games and we haven't done too bad either. It's going to go down to the wire."
- Sydney Morning Herald
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