By MARC HINTON in Christchurch - Stuff
The All Blacks have been warned. Rocky Elsom and his Wallabies will take matters into their own hands at the breakdown if they have to in Saturday night's Bledisloe rematch at AMI Stadium.
Following up on former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer's assertions that the All Blacks are using illegalities at the breakdown, Elsom on the match's eve delivered an emphatic message that they're not going to let the New Zealanders disrupt their ball in the tackle.
Dwyer, a World Cup-winning coach, claims the All Blacks have been guilty of using illegal tactics both to secure their own ball and disrupt their opposition's, and accused them of making an art form of cheating by putting players in offside positions.
But Elsom said the All Blacks would not be allowed to disrupt their ball at the breakdown, as they had succeeded in doing in Melbourne.
"It's definitely an issue for us, just bodies around the ruck," said Elsom. "It slows down our attacking ball and we're going to have to address that."
Asked how his men might ensure the All Blacks aren't able to be the same nuisances they were in Melbourne, Elsom made it clear the Australians wouldn't be passive in this area.
"We've got to move those bodies as best we can. Whenever they're on our side or attacking the ball we've got to make sure that space is clear for Willie (halfback Will Genia) to get out and do what he does best."
Asked if he was accusing the All Blacks of transgressing, Elsom chose his words carefully.
"You can't always control where you fall. By the same token we can't hamper ourselves by leaving bodies there when we're trying to clear it.
"We've got to be able to clear that space and we've got to be able to play our ball, and play it efficiently."
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw said the breakdown was an area the All Blacks targeted as somewhere they could influence the flow of a match.
"I think players are looking for ways they can have a bigger influence and from our point of view we're always looking at ways we can put heat on their ball, stop them getting quick ball and making sure we win ours."
McCaw said the All Blacks had to be "ready for anything" in terms of potential Australian tactics in the tackle area, and that included Wallabies looking to clean them out.
But he indicated the New Zealanders hadn't got everything their own way in Melbourne, and the All Blacks had their own tactics they would be employing to clean things up.
"They had a bit of success there last week and they put a bit of heat on our ball when we didn't quite get it right. We've got to make sure we're better there and I'm sure they'll look at areas where they can be better too," he said
As for accusations like Dwyer's, McCaw has long ago come to regard the finger-pointing with due suspicion.
"It goes with the territory I suppose," he said. "I don't read too much into it. I think for the most part this year we've got things reasonably good and we've got the ball we wanted to play with."
McCaw said referee Jonathan Kaplan would want quick ball, would insist on players making an effort to get out and then make it a contest. Interestingly McCaw's opposite, David Pocock, said he thought the breakdown had been ruled "consistently" in Melbourne.
Elsom said the Wallabies were well prepared and in "good head space" to offer a significant challenge. The focus this week had been on looking after possession better and exerting more sustained pressure on the All Blacks.
The Wallabies were also very much fixed on the present, rather than what's happened the last eight times they've faced the men in black.
"It's important you focus on what you can do something about," said Elsom. "There are a lot of statistics floating around but what's most important for us is we have a game to play, and whoever's the most willing on Saturday night will win that match."
Australian halfback Will Genia, widely considered the man most likely to spark the Wallabies into a streak-busting victory, agreed that it was all about staying positive for the visitors this week.
"We have a good enough group to do it," he said. "Believing is the first part of winning and if you don't believe I don't think you should turn up, to be honest.
"I just think we've got good enough quality players to do it, I think we've prepared well and I believe in each and everyone's ability."
McCaw expects to confront a "desperate" Wallabies outfit but the recipe remained the same for the All Blacks as they chased a 13th consecutive test win that would deliver them both their two main pieces of silver for 2010.
"It's about what we can bring to the party," said the All Blacks skipper. "It's the last home test for the year and we want to put together a good performance before we get on the road again.
"They're going to fire into it - they always do. We're going to have to match that and be better."
The Wallabies should be a lot more competitive than they were in Melbourne, but this All Blacks side looks in such rich form, it's hard to seeing the Australians having the forward power to close them down.
One thing we must hope is that this week the ref keeps the cards in his pocket and let's the players decide it on equal terms on the pitch.. McCaw said the onus there was on those in the middle not to transgress. It will also help if that yellow piece of board isn't flashed on the mere suspicion of something amiss.
15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Piri Weepu; 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Benson Stanley.
15 Kurtley Beale, 14 James O'Connor, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Anthony Faingaa, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Will Genia; 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rocky Elsom (capt), 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Benn Robinson.
Reserves: 16 Stephen Moore, 17 James Slipper, 18 Rob Simmons, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Luke Burgess, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Cameron Shepherd.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)