All Blacks battle for start spots

(Rugby News Service) Sunday 11 September 2011
All Blacks battle for start spots
Andy Ellis says competition among teammates brings out the best

HAMILTON, 11 Sept. - A crucial fumble, inaccurate kick or missed tackle could ruin a player's Rugby World Cup campaign, so tough is the competition for spots in New Zealand's starting line-up.

But according to the players, the battle for places is beneficial.

"Individuals play at their best when there's good competition around them," said scrum half Andy Ellis at a press conference in Hamilton on Sunday.

"In the end, we're all playing for the team."

Richard Kahui started in the No.14 spot ahead of Cory Jane against Tonga on Friday night and starred with two tries in the All Blacks' 41-10 victory.

But Jane says Kahui's good form will only increase his motivation.

"It's always good to have battles for a jersey or a starting spot," he said. "Sometimes you can take your position for granted, so it keeps everyone on their toes."

Scrum issues 

The wing believes the positive mood among the playing group has given him a sense of self-assurance.

"It's hard not to be confident in this team. It's a good environment to be in," he said.

One area the All Blacks will have to work on is their scrum, after Tonga's forwards impressed on Friday night.

"They were really attacking us. It was pretty tough," said All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore.

"We need to close the gaps up, which we can sort out during the week. It would be disappointing if we didn't have something to work on at training in the first week of the tournament."

Beware the underdog

The All Blacks' next game will be against Japan at Waikato Stadium on Friday and several players were impressed by the Brave Blossoms' gallant loss to France on Saturday.

"They're a very well-coached side," said Ellis. "They've got great systems and we all know they go really hard."

Hooker Corey Flynn said: "They were pretty hard. They threw everything into it. That's what the World Cup is all about."

Flanker Victor Vito believes lower-ranked countries such as Japan raise their game at big tournaments such as the World Cup.

"This is their time to shine. They grow another arm and another leg in World Cups," he said.

RNS bw/nb/sw/mr