Class of 1987 show the way

TAINE RANDELL COLUMN
Last updated 05:00 16/10/2011

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Ahead of the semifinal against the Wallabies, the All Blacks' meeting with New Zealand's only World Cup-winning team will have reinforced the significance of tonight's do-or-die match.

I'm sure the All Blacks will be pretty pumped up for tonight's World Cup semifinal on the back of meeting our 1987 world champions.

During my time in the team there was always a lot of talk about the legacy of All Blacks rugby.

I always found it a genuine honour to meet former All Blacks – it really emphasised that you were indeed part of something bigger than your own immediate team and time in the famous jersey.

As our only world champions, the '87 All Blacks are an iconic team. They, more than anyone, will be wanting this side to join them on that lofty stage and I have no doubt a few words of wisdom were passed on during their informal midweek chat.

The '87ers were a game-changing side, a team that revolutionised rugby, and there's been more than a little part of their style in every All Blacks side that has followed. You will see a touch of it tonight when the All Blacks try to dismantle the Wallabies at Eden Park and reach just our third World Cup final.

Players like Michael Jones, John Kirwan and John Gallagher broke the mould in their positions. Grant Fox showed the value of having a master tactician and superboot at No10 and that World Cup was where Buck Shelford cemented his undying mana.

They were a side that brought the perfect blend to the All Blacks. They had the traditional hard edge so long associated with the New Zealand game but they also brought a real flamboyance with their attacking style.

As I said, it's a philosophy that has consistently flowed through the All Blacks ever since and it will be evident tonight. In a perfect world, you belt them up front and beat them out wide.

I've enjoyed the talk coming out of the All Blacks camp this week. There's been nothing outrageous, just a quiet determination, and it's been delivered in a relaxed manner which bodes well for game time.

We know, like so many of those '87 players, there's no lack of flamboyance but the most comforting words I've heard is the constant theme of the need for physicality and dominance up front.

They were the missing ingredients early on in the loss to the Wallabies in Brisbane seven weeks ago. That alone should be enough to ensure there is no repeat, especially having a World Cup final appearance at stake.

Beating the Wallabies up front is a proven formula to succeeding against them. The Springboks will be kicking themselves for not completing the job in last week's quarterfinal, where they completely dominated the game in every area but the scoreboard.

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The Boks brought the required physicality to set up the victory but they didn't have the skill set in other areas to finish the job. In contrast, the All Blacks have the game and talent to carry off a victory – provided that foundation is laid up front.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a bit of an uneasy feeling about this match, though. And I'm sure most, if not all, New Zealanders, have similar sentiments.

It's just the nature of our rivalry and that Australian ability to bring something special to the table.

In David Pocock, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale they have three world-class players. In fact, they are probably the best in their positions in the world at the moment. But they are going to have do without Beale and that means All Blacks fans will be feeling a little less nervous.

But I wouldn't be putting too many of these Wallabies forwards in an All Blacks pack, and that's where we need to make a difference.

There's also a lesson for the All Blacks in the way the Irish managed to upset the Wallabies in pool play at Eden Park.

The Irish pack produced a really combative approach but they also brought an interesting technique to the tackle situations.

Rather than taking the Wallabies players to the ground, which is the All Blacks strength, the Irish made a point of holding the player up for as long as possible.

Even if that meant conceding a few metres it prevented the Wallabies getting any quick ball. It also allowed the Irish to realign their defence and prevented Australia from scoring any tries.

This semifinal should be an absolute cracker. Let's hope the All Blacks can take their lead from the class of '87 – a team that indeed had class stamped all over them.

Taine Randell is a former All Blacks captain

- © Fairfax NZ News

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