The Wallabies' World Cup-winning prop who once described Tony Woodcock's scrummaging prowess as a “myth” confronts his own credibility test in tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship clash in Sydney.
Andrew Blades' scathing assessment of New Zealand's premier loosehead prop four years ago won't be used as motivation for the most-capped prop in All Blacks history, yet the Australian's judgment could again be questioned if the world champions continue their set-piece domination over Australia at ANZ Stadium.
Blades was a member of the last Wallabies side to regain the Bledisloe in 1998 and irritated the All Blacks again a decade later by claiming Matt Dunning had outplayed Woodcock in a Super 14 clash between the Waratahs and Blues.
Woodcock, he reckoned, was not as effective without Carl Hayman and Anton Oliver alongside him in the All Blacks, he was essentially “riding on the coat-tails” of the Otago duo and “showed up as a myth”.
The 31-year-old was 37 tests into his international career when his reputation was sullied; he is now approaching his 87th cap while there is still bemusement in New Zealand that Dunning, who is best remembered for kicking a dropped goal against the Chiefs in 2006, made 45 appearances for the Wallabies.
Blades, the tighthead anchor when the Wallabies won their second World Cup at Cardiff in 1999, grimaced as last year's title bid foundered on Eden Park and now, over the next two weekends, he faces the challenge of ensuring Australia's forwards at least gain parity with an All Black eight, the bulk of which has fond memories of their last trans-Tasman clash.
Other than Quade Cooper being rag-dolled over the touchline by Richard Kahui - the final act of the World Cup semifinal - the All Blacks scrum provided another poignant image in the 72nd minute by splintering the Wallabies and earning the penalty that Piri Weepu converted to complete a clinical 20-6 victory.
It was uncomfortable viewing for Blades, whose 32-test tenure as a tighthead peaked during a golden era for Wallabies rugby, but he was confident the scrum engaged for ANZ Stadium would hold their ground physically and psychologically.
“When you get into those situations you can go one of two ways - you can let fear get in the way, or you can use that pressure and really focus in," he said.
“I think that's what the guys are getting their heads around now.”
With that remedial work under way, Blades' priority now is convincing referees the Wallabies are not automatically at fault when a scrum caves in, the same dilemma faced by predecessors Michael Foley and Patricio Noriega.
Since Al Baxter and Matt Dunning were humiliated at Twickenham in 2005, the Wallabies have been regarded as a liability at the set piece, though their ordeal at least had a positive outcome.
Blades' first test on Robbie Deans' staff ended in an embarrassing 9-6 loss to Scotland in June once Jaco Peyper awarded the Six Nations strugglers a match-winning penalty for a scrum infringement in the last minute.
“It is tough in terms of the referee's perception and something we have to change,” Blades admitted. “If you look back over the last few years, the 50-50 decisions at scrum time will often go against Australia whether they're right or wrong.” Fairfax NZ
- © Fairfax NZ News
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