All Blacks wary of resurgent Wallabies
August 1, 2011
All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith is wary of an improved Wallabies pack © Getty Images
New Zealand will not be taking forward dominance for granted ahead of their Tri-Nations showdown with Australia in Auckland on Saturday.
The Wallabies' talent-heavy back division have dominated headlines in the wake of their opening 39-20 victory over South Africa but All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith is increasingly wary of a beefed up Australia pack.
"They have also developed, under the iron curtain, in the background, a pretty good pack," he said ahead of the latest Trans-Tasman clash at Eden Park. "Their front row played pretty well. They've stemmed the tide there a wee bit and their lineout is always good. They played with real vigour, I thought, against South Africa."
The All Blacks are coming off their own 40-7 victory over the Springboks in Wellington on Saturday night and their line-up to face the Wallabies in the year's first Bledisloe Cup Test will be named on Thursday morning.
Smith said the four forwards still to get game time after being rested against Fiji and South Africa because of long Super Rugby campaigns - Crusaders Kieran Read, Brad Thorn and Owen Franks, and Blues skipper Keven Mealamu - would see action at Eden Park.
"They are recharged and champing at the bit to have a crack, so they'll get an opportunity," Smith said. "How much opportunity and whether they start or come off the bench, I can't tell at you this point, but they will certainly have an opportunity within the match."
Smith also said winger Hosea Gear, who also missed the previous two Tests as he continued his recovery from a hamstring injury, was fit and available again. There had been thoughts of having Gear get some provincial rugby with Wellington under his belt first, "but we think he's one of those players who is ready to go".
Gear is involved in one of the biggest battles for spots in the World Cup squad, with the All Blacks having particular depth in the wings. Over the past fortnight, Corey Jane, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Ben Smith and Zac Guildford - the first three originally named as injury cover for the Tri-Nations - have impressed when given the chance.
"All he can do is put his form on the track," Smith said of the challenge facing Gear. "He can't do any more and you have to trust that that's enough for the selectors to pick you."
Among other players returning from injury, utility back Isaia Toeava turned out for Auckland against Taranaki yesterday. Smith said prop Tony Woodcock and fullback Israel Dagg were expected to be back in action over the coming week, and centre Richard Kahui in the next 10 days.
Meanwhile, prop John Afoa, who suffered a facial fracture when he came off the bench against the Springboks, is due to see a specialist on Wednesday. Smith said no replacement had been brought in for Afoa at this stage, but would be if the injury proved to be serious enough to rule the Aucklander out of the rest of the Tri-Nations.
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