All Blacks comfortable with air Izzy but on 'high alert' for Pocock

The Rugby Championship
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith says better decision-making will help players avoid a repeat of a controversial June Series.

New Zealand and the Wallabies were both involved in controversial cardings during their respective June Series, as the aerial contest took centre stage.

Wallabies fullback Israel Folau was suspended for a week after a mid-air collision with Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony.

All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett missed a week after France fullback Benjamin Fall was sent off for a collision that caused Barrett to fall in an awkward position.

Fall’s card was later rescinded, with vision showing he was pushed into Barrett’s line by New Zealand centre Anton Lienert-Brown.

Since then, and after a number of controversial TMO moments in Super Rugby, SANZAAR has launched a review of its use of technology and intends to pass its recommendations on to World Rugby.

Smith said there was enough clarity around the rules and players simply needed to make the right decision in the heat of matches.

“I just think you've got to make good decisions when it comes to that part of the game, you've got to make really good decisions because if you don't quite get that right we've seen over the last few months that you can spend time on the sidelines,” he said.

“As a player, we've just got to make good decisions (about) when you can go up and maybe if you're not quite making it there on time to let that guy go up.

“It's just around decision-making I think.”

Smith said the only way to ensure the right decision became instinct was practice.

“It all happens pretty quick, just got to keep training it and it's just down to reactions and making sure that you're aware of what situations you are going to be able to compete for a contest,” he said.

“Sometimes there's going to be ones where you aren't and it's just your reaction times, making sure you're pretty accurate in that area to do the best part for your team.

Folau was felled effectively by Ireland in June, though the Wallabies questioned some of those tactics, and Smith said it would be a focus for them this week.

“It's going to be an area that we're going to have to make sure we put time into and have a good plan around that because they have got some good guys that are pretty sharp aerially,” he said.

“We'll have a good plan and make sure that we're onto it because that part of their game is to get the ball into those areas to get the likes of Folau and Haylett-Petty and those kinds of guys in the air.”

“(You need) awareness that it's coming and being aware of where he is on the field but more so we've got a couple of plans around that this week, so if that comes it'll be part of the game and we'll look to get up and shut those down.”

While Folau's threat in the air is a big one, the return of Pocock in the pack has not gone unnoticed across the ditch.

Flanker Sam Cane said the Kiwis would certainly be on 'high alert' with Pocock's return.

"He's always a big threat when he plays," he said.

"The way he continually bounces back and plays at such a high level is pretty outstanding. It just creates an awareness, we're on more high alert than normal around the breakdown."

Cane said he was expecting Wallabies captain Michael Hooper to be back at his peak in his return from a hamstring injury, despite missing five weeks with the injury.

The All Blacks arrived in Sydney on Sunday and will spend the full week in Australia for the third year in a row.

It’s a move that has reaped rewards for the visitors the past two years, with 42-8 and 54-34 wins in 2016 and 2017, and Cane said it was a big reason for their fast Rugby Championship starts.

“Well in previous years we used to come over later in the week,” he said.

“I think it's been great, particularly at this point in the season, we've just assembled as a squad, we're all coming from five different teams to come over here where there's not the distractions that can sometimes be at home.”

“Whenever you're in a place - Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, there's boys that can go home and this just keeps us tight, being over here for the week and I think at this time of the year, when we're just coming together, I think that's really helpful.”

The Wallabies host the All Blacks in the first Bledisoe on Saturday August 18, kicking off at 7:45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RADIO, with the Wallaroos taking on the Black Ferns from 5:15pm AEST as well. Buy tickets here.