Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Wallaby forwards look to neutralize playmaker Spencer

AFP , SYDNEY

Coach Eddie Jones is calling on his Wallaby forwards to neutralize the attacking genius of All Black playmaker Carlos Spencer in tomorrow's Bledisloe Cup rugby showdown at the Olympic stadium.

Jones rates the 28-year-old fly-half as one of the greatest attacking players of his generation, but says it's not a simple case of just shutting him down to derail the high-flying All Blacks.

New Zealand can clinch their sixth title in nine years of the Tri-Nations if they win with a bonus scoring point ahead of the two remaining matches in South Africa later this month.

The All Blacks relished wet and windy Wellington conditions in the Tri-Nations opener on July 17 to dominate possession in a 16-7 victory over the Australians.

Jones knows he will get a firm playing surface here tomorrow and expects more running rugby than tactical kicking that the conditions demanded in the first Bledisloe Cup game.

He has drilled his forwards to get more parity with the All Black pack and sees that battleground as fundamental as to who wins tomorrow.

No possession

"We were gutted by the lack of possession we got [in Wellington]. You can't expect to win Test matches with that little amount of possession and the possession we had we didn't use well," Jones told a press conference on Thursday.

"We acknowledge it wasn't a good performance by us, we've worked pretty hard over the last three weeks to get ourselves right for this game and we believe that those problems we encountered in Wellington we've certainly done the work to get them right.

"To compete and get our 50 percent possession against New Zealand we're going to have to be technically and tactically really good in the scrum and the lineout and put pressure on their ball."

Asked if it was a case of shutting down the maverick Spencer to win their 37th Test in 121 trans-Tasman encounters with the All Blacks, Jones said:

"It's simple if you win the game up front. Tell me of a number 10[fly-half] in the world who plays well when his tight five is getting less than 50 percent of the ball and not getting go-forward ball."

Spencer may have his critics back home over his hot-and-cold form, but Jones is one of his admirers.

"You're never ready for Carlos surprises, he's one of the greatest attacking players of this time, you can't be ready for it, you just have to be good enough to handle it when it happens," he said.

"He's got his banana kicks, he throws the ball up in the air, knee kicks ... you just have to be ready for those things on the day.

"I think brilliant players always tend to attract that sort of comment, they either get high praise or deadly criticism because that's the way they play.

"He plays at both ends of the spectrum, more so at the top end of the spectrum than the other end. I think it's quite natural for players like that to attract that sort of criticism."

New Zealand assistant coach Steve Hansen said the All Blacks were working on perfecting their set-piece work to score a repeat win over Australia.

"The game's about attacking the set pieces and getting quality possession," Hansen said.

"If you can make sure you get quality possession and the other side doesn't then you're halfway to winning the game. We have to make sure our set pieces are good as well as try to disrupt theirs as much as possible.

"If we can't get quality ball at set pieces you may as well not turn up."

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