All Blacks in search of retribution at Eden Park

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 05:10 23/08/2014
MUSCLING UP: Skipper Richie McCaw looks on as a scrum is packed down at training this week. The All Blacks forwards plan to up the ante at Eden Park tonight.
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MUSCLING UP: Skipper Richie McCaw looks on as a scrum is packed down at training this week. The All Blacks forwards plan to up the ante at Eden Park tonight.

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Physical intimidation has formed the backbone of the now long-held dominance over the Wallabies.

Australia are probably the only nation in world rugby that can match the All Blacks in terms of attacking skill, but their forward pack's inadequacies have often blunted the ability to showcase those inherent talents.

Rugby is, and always will be, a game founded on the simple notion that whoever wins the collisions and controls possession usually prevails.

It's here the All Blacks were average in Sydney last week. And here they are intent on retribution.

Their line speed wasn't where it needed to be. Aggression levels didn't hit the mark. They kicked away too much ball to build a platform through strong carries and cleanouts.

Tonight at fortress Eden Park, where the All Blacks have won their last 32 tests, expect Steve Hansen's men to tighten their focus - go up the guts before looking to their clear edge in finishing on the outsides.

''We certainly let the Wallaby pack get back into and perhaps have the edge in the second half. The big boys, come Monday, they weren't that happy,'' All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said.

As has been the case for the past 11 years of Bledisloe Cup supremacy, the onus is on the forward pack to crush their opponents.

That starts at the set-piece and translates to the breakdown where Michael Hooper's influence must be nullified.

''We weren't as physical as we wanted to be, or where we need to be,'' hooker Dane Coles said.

''We're looking forward to improving this week. That comes down to wanting to intimidate. The boys got the message.

"It's now about walking the talk. You've got to earn the right to play first. What bigger motivation do you need? The Bledisloe is on the line.

''We need to look to have a go at scrum time. Last week we didn't adapt to the referee quickly enough. We got pinged three times and by then it was probably a bit too late. We're looking forward to having a crack at the set-piece.

''We definitely have to lift. I'm sure they'll take a lot of confidence out of nearly beating us but they'll know they need to step up.''

Ma'a Nonu's loss will be keenly felt - arguably more so than Jerome Kaino's.

Nonu's ability to attract at least two defenders and make ground off the backfoot is invaluable. Ryan Crotty, who is 16kgs lighter, has big shoes to fill, though Conrad Smith's return offers a calming presence.

To counter that loss of size in the midfield expect Julian Savea to come off his wing and target the 10 channel - the Wallabies can't hide Kurtley Beale's defensive frailties on the wing all night.

Pressure has rightly been placed on Aaron Cruden to improve his decision-making.

He needs to challenge the line more and strike a better balance between kicking and keeping the ball in hand with conditions forecast to favour an open, free-flowing spectacle.

That will, of course, be heavily dependent on Romain Poite, the French referee who caused a stir last year by wrongly yellow carding Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis at this very venue.

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After the inconsistent efforts of South African Jaco Peyper, Poite must lifts standards.

The quietly-confident Wallabies claim they haven't spoken about their Eden Park hoodoo, which dates back to 1986.

Yet they've changed hotels, arrived later in the week and will stay on the field at half time, all in an attempt to diminish the ground's aura.

Half of their starting team haven't lost to the All Blacks in Auckland but Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has suffered six defeats there, made a telling statement before last week's draw.

''If you certainly don't win the first game against these guys it [Bledisloe Cup] becomes almost impossible to claim,'' the world-class centre said.

The Bledisloe, which holds 47 stubbies, is indeed a treasured trophy.

Lay a dominant forward display, and the All Blacks should be able to savour every last drop.

- Stuff

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