Bledisloe Cup in Hong Kong
Heat is on in Hong Kong
October 31, 2008
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw darts at the Australian defence, New Zealand v Australia, Tri Nations, Eden Park, September 3 2005.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw is expecting an up-tempo clash in the Hong Kong heat © Getty Images

Handling the intensity of a Bledisloe Cup match is familiar to most of the players in Saturday's landmark trans-Tasman rugby test - but the ability to cope with cloying humidity could provide a point of difference when the All Black and Wallabies seek to entertain at Hong Kong Stadium.

Heat management has been a priority for both camps since they arrived in a stifling Asian autumn, with All Blacks coach Graham Henry confessing he hopes a condensed preparation has not compromised his players' energy levels.

"It hasn't been easy. We have been trying to get the right balance between 30 degrees and making sure the guys have a reasonable full tank (for the game). So you can't overdo it," he said. Complicating Henry's task is the fact New Zealand have been working to a tight schedule. The squad only assembled in its entirety last Sunday before having one training run in Auckland the night they flew out.

The All Blacks arrived on Tuesday - a day after the Wallabies took a shorter flight from Sydney. "We've had four days to prepare and that's demanding in itself for an international rugby game," Henry said. "So trying to get the work done in a short time without blowing them apart in 30 degrees has been the challenge. Hopefully we have got that balance right."

Captain Richie McCaw put a positive spin on a weather forecast that predicts a maximum temperature of 29 degrees - and 75 percent humidity - for the afternoon kick-off.

"I think the guys are excited about playing in some nice weather. I know I much prefer running around in this temperature than the cold. The guys are looking forward to a dry track. There will be a bit of sweat and stuff around but hopefully it'll be a good open game and teams try to use the ball," he said.

Wallabies captain Stirling Mortlock concurred with his counterpart on the desire to play expansively - a hallmark of the previous Bledisloe Cup contests in Sydney, Auckland and Brisbane.

"Both teams have played up tempo test matches and I anticipate that again," he said. Mortlock agreed the climate would have ramifications as the match wore on and said the respective coaches would have to use their benches wisely. "Utilising the full squad of 22 is going to be very important."

The Australians are more accustomed to training and playing in heat but even Mortlock said the players had found it heavy going this week. "The humidity is constant regardless of whether the temperature is up there or down. Your sweat rates are really high. It takes it out of you but saying that, we've had camps in Darwin and we've played early in the year in Brisbane," Mortlock said.

Meanwhile, the abandonment of yet another rule change is likely to ease the player's plight, according to Wallabies flanker George Smith. Penalties for ruck infringements are back in vogue, replacing the free kick option used in the Super 14 and Tri-Nations. "There'll be times when it slows the game down and we may get a bit of time to recover," Smith said.

The Wallabies openside again figures as a key opponent for the All Blacks to shut down considering the inexperience surrounding him in a back-row missing Wycliff Palu and Rocky Elsom.

Blindside Dean Mumm is playing just his sixth test and No 8 Richard Brown his second after debuting against the All Blacks in Brisbane last month. "The guys are working extremely well," Smith said. "They're excited about the game and the combinations are forming well."

Mortlock was similarly upbeat about an area of perceived All Blacks' weakness - a back three deprived of Mils Muliaina. Isaia Toeava deputises at fullback while right wing Hosea Gear makes his debut. "I don't think they're particularly vulnerable," Mortlock said. `Pretty much every game as a back three you go into the match knowing full well you are going to be tested both in positional play and with the high ball.

"They've both got this opportunity on the back of pretty good form. They've probably a lot of confidence under their belts."


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