All Blacks need more mongrel

BY DAVID LONG
Last updated 05:00 12/07/2009

All Blacks assemble in Wellington

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Robin Brooke has called on the All Blacks to harden up if they want to win the Tri-Nations.

The 62-test second rower is concerned that the All Blacks are too nice a bunch of guys when compared to the Springboks, who recently beat the British and Irish Lions with their in-your-face game.

The Springboks have Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger and Juan Smith to give their forward pack some real hard-nosed aggression.

The Wallabies have Nathan Sharpe, Phil Waugh, Wycliff Palu and Rocky Elsom fulfilling that role, while all the All Blacks have is Brad Thorn.

Brooke says the All Blacks can come across as being too nice.

"They are gentlemanly-like people, but there is Brad Thorn and he can turn it on and off and you need to turn it on in a game," Brooke told Sunday News.

"If you go through the forward pack we probably need more mongrel collectively right across the board.

"South Africa have a big aggressive forward pack right the way through and it's going to be an interesting Tri Nations for the All Blacks.

"The forwards definitely need to toughen up and get more aggressive and try to dominate the opposition.

"They're a young and inexperienced team and there are a lot of new faces in the squad that haven't worn the jersey a lot.

"It's going to be a big challenge for them."

Brooke believes it will be a tall order for the All Blacks to retain their Tri-Nations title, especially because of the injury crisis the team has gone through.

"South Africa must be the favourites," he said. "But I wouldn't write Australia off, they've been playing pretty well.

"I think it will come down to those two teams.

"However, you can never say never with the All Blacks. But I think they're going through a period where they're missing some of their talent, like Dan Carter, and it has shown what a big influence that guy has."

With Botha and Matfield in the Springboks' second row it gives them a significant edge in the lineouts, while Brooke says Botha's presence can't be underestimated.

"That guy is outstanding. He's an asset to any team, especially the Springboks, and without him they're a different pack. He has that hard-nosed mongrel type play and never backs down.

"Not only does he not back down, he dishes it out as well. It's a great combination that he has with Victor Matfield, who is one of the best lineout ball takers in the world."

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Brooke says Thorn continues to grow as a leader and a player, with his lineout work making vast improvements.

"Brad Thorn has done extremely well to change over from league," he said.

"His lineout play has improved 200 percent over the last couple of years and you could even call his ball to the front a money-ball because of the speed at which he does it.

"However, he can't be a lone soldier, he needs people around him. He's the older guy in the forward pack and by default he's got that leadership role.

"He probably didn't ask for it, but he finds himself in a position of leadership through experience, age and his hard-nosed attitude."

Brooke has been impressed with how Isaac Ross played in the June tests, but cautioned that he needed to play tighter in the Tri Nations or he could be found out.

"He's an allrounder. However, he'll have to tighten up his game a hell of a lot in the Tri Nations," he said.

"Even though he got player of the day against Italy and it was a superb effort for a young guy, you can't play that game against the next two opponents."

As for the Wallabies, Brooke says Sharpe remains the rock at which their tight five is based,

"He's a ball carrier who takes it over the advantage line and he's a good lineout forward as well. Australia have got a very good lineout and so too have South Africa. We've got the ability to get ball. Whether we can turn ball, I'm not too sure. I'd say of all the Tri Nations tournaments so far, this will be the most difficult one for us."

Do you think the All Blacks are too nice? Post your comments below.

- Sunday News

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