Hook­ers to face a test of pre­ci­sion

Weekend Herald - - RUGBY -

A sW C Fields may have said, this is a night for hook­ers to strut their stuff. Dane Coles and Mal­colm Marx wear those ex­tra lay­ers of re­spon­si­bil­ity around their work as spear­heads in the All Black and Spring­bok packs shoot­ing for Rugby Cham­pi­onship supremacy.

Both need to work with re­vamped scrums where in­jury has claimed lead­ing props Owen Franks, Joe Moody and Con­nie Oosthuizen, which will have some knock- on ef­fect on that set piece mo­men­tum.

Ex­tended ad­van­tages played by ref­er­ees cut into scrums th­ese days but their sig­nif­i­cance re­mains undimmed across the field and in par­tic­u­lar, on de­fence in the 22m zone, where penal­ties, tight­heads or penalty tries threaten.

When they get those chances, Coles and Marx will have plans to dis­rupt one side of their ri­vals' scrum and find favour with ref­eree Nigel Owens or at­tract the at­ten­tion of lines­men Angus Gard­ner and Matthew Car­ley.

Around that strug­gle, Coles and Marx have to hit their line out jumpers, drive into their de­fence and counter- ruck chances and keep enough en­ergy to range wide on at­tack.

While Coles at his best, is a hand­ful with the ball be­cause he has pace and ball skills to crown his bulk, Marx is no slouch ei­ther and while he rel­ishes con­tact he also has the jets and eva­sion to give de­fend­ers plenty of trou­ble.

Those chances may be min­i­mal in this clash at Al­bany, which puts even more of a premium on play­ers build­ing on those op­por­tu­ni­ties. Of­floads have to find team­mates and be le­git rather than mar­ginal to of­fer Owens and Co a chance to re­view.

That sort of de­tail has been in full beam for the All Blacks, work­ing on their pass­ing touches and giv­ing them­selves a bet­ter line and depth on at­tack so they can hit of­floads at pace rather than check­ing and of­fer­ing eas­ier tar­gets for de­fend­ers.

Ac­cu­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tion, drip fed from the ar­row­head check­points of Coles and Marx, has to be a solid junc­tion in the whole op­er­a­tion. While most of the fo­cus set­tles on the com­bined thrust from No 8, half­back and five eighths, the hook­ers have to lead.

Coles sim­mers best in that pres­sure but has been re­stricted in his work this year while Marx is learn­ing the ex­tra nu­ances of test rugby as their teams head into their first con­flict this year.

Wynne Gray

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