Elsom: Wallabies raring to take down No. 1 Kiwis
Updated: October 12, 2011, 02:15
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Wallabies backrower Rocky Elsom has no qualms about recognizing New Zealand's ranking atop the established rugby pecking order, even if it's only days before he meets them in a World Cup semifinal.
After all, as he implies, the All Blacks are usually the best team between World Cups.
Elsom is something of a blunt instrument on the field, and he's just as direct in a news conference.
When asked why he and his Australia teammates seemed to be promoting New Zealand's No. 1 status on Wednesday, Elsom offered the literal rejoinder: "I said they were ranked No. 1. And they are.''
For now, he quickly added.
"The best team in the world will be the team that wins the World Cup,'' he said, "and we're all trying to do that.''
Australia edged New Zealand in the semifinals en route to its first World Cup title in 1991, won the tournament again in 1999 and also beat the All Blacks in the 2003 semifinals before losing the final in extra time to England on Jonny Wilkinson's dropped goal.
The All Blacks haven't won the World Cup since hosting the inaugural tournament in 1987, when rugby union was a decidedly amateur code, and have had some losses to South Africa, France and Australia which have the New Zealand public openly wondering if there's some kind of curse on their team.
It's a mine of public apprehension that the Australians don't mind tapping into.
"Forget about us for a minute,'' Elsom replied to questions about the pressure on Australia to win at Eden Park on Sunday. "They're the No. 1 ranked team in the world and they're in a country where they expect them to win the World Cup - regardless of what happens, the public expects that.
"I can't speak for them, but you get a feeling around town (the public) won't tolerate anything less.''
Dig. Dig. Dig.
"This situation is, not only are they expected to win this match, but then the next one as well,'' Elsom added, for good measure. "So, there is a a hell of a lot of expectation. Just what that does to them, I'm not sure. But you definitely know it's there.''
Kiwi supporters tend to promote Australia's terrible record in New Zealand in the trans-Tasman rivalry, particularly at Eden Park where the Wallabies haven't won since 1986.
Elsom, who was stood down as Australian captain not long after the most recent loss at the Auckland ground in the Tri-Nations, dismisses the notion that there's any underlying concern or anything haunting about the venue.
"I didn't know there were any ghosts there,'' he said. "Look, if we get a win up, we'll be fine with it. If we lose, we won't be happy. It's as simple as that.''
James Horwill became Wallabies captain when the World Cup squad was selected, and his first test in charge was the Tri-Nations decider against the All Blacks at Brisbane in August - where Australia won the Tri-Nations title for the first time in a decade.
He can't see any bad omens about Eden Park, or recent form against New Zealand.
"It's a ground that's hosting the semifinal of the World Cup. It's going to be a big no matter where it's held - whether it was held in a park just down the road - it's going to be a massive game. That's the way we're treating it.''
Australia's record at Eden Park got slightly more scary for the Wallabies when they lost 15-6 to Ireland in the pool stage, in the absence of first-choice flanker David Pocock and hooker Stephen Moore, setting them on a collision course with defending champion South Africa in the quarterfinals and the top-ranked All Blacks in the semis.
Topping the group would have put Australia into a knockout draw with the northern hemisphere countries instead of having the top-three ranked teams in the world on one side. Two-time finalist France advanced to the other semifinal against Wales, which is into the last four at a World Cup for the first time in 24 years.
After a narrow 11-9 quarterfinal win over the Springboks, when the Australians surrendered the bulk of possession and territory and had to make three times as many tackles as the South Africans, Horwill thinks his team is ideally placed.
"We're in the semifinals, playing with a chance to make the final,'' Horwill said. "This tournament is about winning. We've made it to where we're one win away from the big game. We're happy with where we're at, because we're playing in the semifinals with a chance to make the final.''