Fri, Nov 24, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Kangaroos, Kiwis headed for explosive showdown


The Tri-Nations rugby league final between New Zealand and Australia tomorrow is shaping as an intensely physical showdown, with the Kiwis talking of war and enforcers on both sides saying there will be no holding back.

Although rival coaches Brian McClennan and Ricky Stuart have played down talk of a free-for-all, the players don't see it that way.

"We love the contact, the aggression. That's what it's about, two nations going at it like a war, all guns blazing for both sides," New Zealand skipper Ruben Wiki said.

Australian hitman Willie Mason said he would not be toning down his abrasive style.

"No way, I think it's better because it's a final. You can't get suspended, I don't think, unless they carry on into next year's NRL games," he said.

Mason will confront Kiwi second rower David Kidwell for the first time since their colossal clash in the first match of the series six weeks ago, which left the huge Australian concussed and out of the second Test a week later.

He returned for Australia's first match against Great Britain, only to receive a week's suspension for punching Great Britain prop Stuart Fielden.

Kidwell joked this week he and Mason would expect a cut of the gate takings as their rivalry had been a key talking point in the buildup to the final.

New Zealand go into the final as defending Tri-Nations champions, beating the Kangaroos 24-0 in last year's final at Leeds, but having since lost three out of three to Australia.

But despite the slump in fortunes over the past 12 months, the Kiwis do not face the same pressure as Australia, who have struggled for form in this year's Tri-Nations.

They only just beat New Zealand in their second match when two tries in the dying minutes put them in front 20-15, and they lost their first match against a Great Britain side that was beaten twice by New Zealand.

Kangaroos captain Darren Lockyer, rugby league's international player of the year and Australia's key element, has admitted the Kiwis are in better form going into the final at Aussie Stadium tomorrow.

"Our consistency's probably been a bit lacking and I just hope we can build on last week's performance," Lockyer said, referring to their 33-10 win over Great Britain, reversing the first round loss.

"The Kiwis have improved every time they've played and we need to be better than what we were last week," he said.

Stuart believes the team with the best composure will win tomorrow and has stressed this to his players.

"I've chatted to all the players, not just Willie, with regards to controlling our aggression," Stuart said.

McClennan added: "We want to have controlled emotions in the game and I think both teams are very determined to be disciplined."

But even if there is no illegal aggression, physical intensity seems assured.

"It's Test footy and anything happens in Test footy. If the fans are loving it, then we might have to pick it up a bit," Wiki said.

England vs S Africa

England hooker Lee Mears is looking forward to going up against opposite number and South Africa captain John Smit when the sides meet at Twickenham tomorrow.

Smit, at 1.9m tall and nearly 120kg, is one of the strongest hookers in world rugby today and Mears is bracing himself for a huge physical challenge at the weekend.

"I played against him at under-21 level, and he was a tighthead prop then," said Mears, a member of a reshaped England front-row alongside Phil Vickery and Julian White.

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