French whistler holds key - to scrum and match

DARREN WALTON
Last updated 05:10 21/08/2014
Romain Poite
Getty Images
WHISTLING A TUNE: French referee Romain Poite will play a pivotal role in the second Bledisloe Cup test at Eden Park.

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Forget Kurtley Beale, the Wallabies know this will be an old-fashioned trans-Tasman test that's won and lost up front.

A Bledisloe Cup battle decided in the engine room, not by the glamour boy backs.

While much of the focus over the past week has centred on Beale's contentious selection - and retention - as Australia's five-eighth, the Wallabies acknowledge their playmaker will be powerless to stop the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday if the gold scrum is going backwards.

"It starts with the set piece," said Wallabies hooker Nathan Charles.

And finishes with the set piece.

Especially under French referee Romaine Poite.

He is as officious at scrum time as Jaco Peyper, the South African who blew the pea out of the whistle in last Saturday's 12-12 draw against the All Blacks in Sydney.

Poite is also the referee who punished Australia's scrum during last year's series-deciding 41-16 third test loss to the Lions.

Australia's oft-maligned scrum held its own with the might and power of New Zealand's last Saturday, but coach Ewen McKenzie knows that critics - and referees - can be fickle.

"Like all parts of the game, we've made progress [with our scrum]," McKenzie said.

"But I also know one bad day at the office [and] the headlines come out. They all get dusted off and they come out again.

"So we can't afford to have a bad day at the office."

Otherwise, Poite could have the Wallabies reliving a recurring nightmare.

"You've got to build reputation over time," McKenzie said.

"You can trash it overnight, but it takes time to build and he was on the sideline [for the first test], so he would have watched it naturally and been probably forming an opinion.

"There's no doubt that the French referees at scrum time will favour scrums going forward. That's the sort of philosophical approach in French rugby, which I understand.

"So you've got to make sure you aren't going backwards. You have got to be able to get parity at least and then you've got a platform to play with."

McKenzie believes noises coming out of New Zealand this week indicate the All Blacks - who can retain the Bledisloe Cup for a 12th straight year with victory in Auckland - plan to get "back to the basics" and "get the fundamentals right" on Saturday.

"So we know from the first minute of the game they're going to come hard and they'll do that through the forwards.

"They'll obviously take us on at the set piece . . . pick and drive and be trying to impose themselves and getting on the front foot.

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"So we'll train accordingly this week. There's going to be another level of physicality up front and we have to be ready for that."

- AAP

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