From the Touchline

(Rugby News Service) Thursday 13 October 2011
From the Touchline
Digby Ioane demonstrates moves he has been teaching Tatafu Polota-Nau

AUCKLAND, 13 Oct. - A lighter look at Rugby World Cup 2011.

The numbers

4 - In each of the last four RWC tournaments, one semi-final has been an all-southern hemisphere battle. Australia and South Africa (1999), Australia and New Zealand (2003), South Africa and Argentina (2007) and Australia and New Zealand (2011).

1 - Rugby World Cup 1999 provided the only instance where three teams from one hemisphere qualified for the semi-finals. Southern hemisphere rivals Australia, South Africa and New Zealand all won their quarter-finals, with France the sole representative for the north.

He said it ... and then some

"No. He's being Matt Todd. Don't read too much into it, he's just at training. The poor bugger is just at training and that's it. We've got plenty of people we can turn into David Pocock, just put a green bib on them and say, 'you're David Pocock'."

- All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen had a ready explanation when asked if Canterbury flanker Matt Todd, who has been at the squad's training sessions in Auckland, is taking on the role of Australian flanker David Pocock as New Zealand prepare for Sunday's semi-final against the Wallabies.

Hansen, in fact, was in prime verbal form for much of a Thursday press conference, which he jump-started by answering a question before the media pack had a chance to ask it. “Righto, well I can guess what the first question is so I’m going to answer it for you. Richie McCaw’s foot is fine,” he said, referring to speculation that the New Zealand captain could miss Sunday’s semi-final.

Hansen also had a ready response when he was asked who has had the toughest time in the media spotlight, McCaw because of his troublesome foot or Quade Cooper as a New Zealander playing for Australia. “It depends who you are, I suppose," said Hansen. "Quade Cooper’s had a good go though hasn’t he? He seems to be taking it on the chin pretty good. Good Kiwi boy.”

All Blacks quick off the mark

Hansen was not the only New Zealander to be quick with the repartee on Thursday. Scrum half Andy Ellis proved a master of diplomacy when he was asked by a French reporter if he would prefer to play France or Wales if the All Blacks reach the final of RWC 2011. "Is that a French accent?" he asked. When the answer was in the affirmative, his response was instant: "France."

Flanker Jerome Kaino's turn came when he was asked if he was working on his speed so he could keep up with Australia scrum half Will Genia. "I don't think I'll be getting any faster in five days," dead-panned Kaino.

And Sonny Bill Williams confessed to being impressed by tales of the off-field exploits of the 1987 New Zealand team when the current squad got together with a group of those RWC-winning stalwarts.

“Just being able to mix and mingle with them, hear their stories of what they used to do in their rugby days - it was probably a little bit naughtier than what we do these days,” said Williams, without elaborating.

Digby's back-up waiting in the wings

Wallaby wing Digby Ioane’s dancing days have been curtailed ... at least on the pitch. The broken thumb he suffered against Italy has put a damper on plans for performing some of his signature try-celebration dance moves at the tournament. 

However, he has promised a special performance if the Wallabies beat New Zealand in their semi-final on Sunday. “I will dance if we win - after the game, I’ll dance the whole night,” he said.

Another Wallaby is ready to take Ioane's place as the master of the moves. Hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has apparently engaged the services of his teammate to teach him how to ‘Digby’ and was happy to show journalists on Thursday what he had learned. 

After earlier confessing he was looking for love during his time in New Zealand, Polota-Nau may well plan on replicating Ioane's moves on an Auckland dance floor before too long.

Welsh players rev up outside Auckland

Members of the Wales team blasted through Auckland's picturesque Woodhill Forest ahead of Saturday's semi-final clash with France. A group of players took time out from training to enjoy a ride on quad bikes. 

After darting among pine trees on a forest dirt track, the team cruised over the sand dunes and along the spectacular west coast surf beach of Muriwai.

Hooker Huw Bennett said it was a great way to spend their day off. "The intensity has increased this week with a big game on Saturday, but it's still important for the boys to get a chance to relax. Quad biking through the forest was superb," he said.

Covered in mud, centre Jamie Roberts added that it was a good way to focus ahead of the team's match against Les Bleus. "Time out with the boys is always a great way to bond before a big match," he said. 

On a wing and a prayer

The All Blacks might be looking for a bit of divine intervention to help them reach the RWC 2011 Final.

Just 400m from the New Zealand team hotel, St Matthew-in-the-city church is encouraging Aucklanders to cast their minds back to 1987 and offer a little prayer for the boys of 2011.

RNS gs/sw