Rugby-Breakdown the key battle for All Blacks, Wallabies

By Justin Palmer

LONDON, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Back in August, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen spoke of not allowing Australia "to have a field day at the breakdown" before their Rugby Championship clash and then watched as Wallaby back-rower David Pocock ran amok.

A 27-19 defeat in Sydney was the only loss suffered by the All Blacks this year and although the Wallabies succumbed a week later in Auckland, they had found a chink in the armour of their bitter rivals.

Scroll to continue with content

The battle at the breakdown -- some say the most important contributing factor to winning a game of rugby -- in Saturday's World Cup final between the old adversaries at Twickenham is likely to decide the destiny of the Webb Ellis Cup.

Pocock and his dynamic back-row tandem with Michael Hooper, along with Scott Fardy, up against Richie McCaw, the inspirational All Blacks flanker and captain, aggressive "enforcer" Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read.

"David Pocock is really dangerous. He has shown how great he is at the breakdown. We know what we have to do to dominate the breakdown area," said Kaino.

Stopping the irrepressible Pocock getting his hands on the ball will be key if New Zealand are to repeat their 2011 triumph.

Pocock has arguably been the most influential player of the tournament, his 14 turnovers, in just four games, five more than any other player and six more than the All Blacks' Read who has eight while McCaw has six.


Pocock, playing as number eight, and Hooper are both primarily opensides, and along with rugged blindside Fardy are deployed by coach Michael Cheika to get quickly around the park from breakdown to breakdown.

Speed into the ruck will be key for the All Blacks who need to feed off scrumhalf Aaron Smith's supply of front-foot ball to unleash their potent backline. Getting over the ball before Pocock pilfers it is a necessity.

Former All Blacks great Jonah Lomu summed up the challenge facing Steve Hansen's side.

"The difference at the moment is that New Zealand only have Richie McCaw in their back row, while Australia have Hooper and Pocock working together. That gives them a different dimension at the breakdown," he said.

"Australia playing two opensides in Pocock and Hooper is a real threat to the All Blacks."

The New Zealand pack will look to counter in the scrum where Australia, despite being much improved in an area that was once regarded as a weak link, were given a torrid time by Argentina in their semi-final.

New Zealand will also look to get on top at the lineout where Read and Brodie Retallick lead the way in steals with their leaping ability.

The battle of the number 10s is another sub-plot to savour with New Zealand's Dan Carter looking to make his final game as an All Black a triumphant one.

Carter, who missed the 2011 final through injury, has been the master conductor of an All Blacks dynasty for over a decade and looked close to being back to his playmaking best in the tense semi-final win over South Africa.

Compared to Carter, Wallaby flyhalf Bernard Foley is a relative international novice but has shown at this tournament, with his clutch quarter-final penalty to sink Scotland, that he is not out of place on the biggest stage.

While Australia's defence has been outstanding, they will face their acid test against an explosive All Blacks backline with wings Julian Savea and the fleet-footed Nehe Milner-Skudder a potent threat out wide.

The speed of New Zealand's handling ensures they consistently make metres over the gainline leaving Australian wing Drew Mitchell to warn: "Both (Savea and Milner-Skudder) are quality players and you've just got to try to limit their opportunities.

"They have different skill sets and pose different threats. You want to reduce the amount of time they've got and try to get up and reduce that space when they've got the ball." (Editing by Rex Gowar)

What to Read Next