All Blacks eye scrum in 'ding-dong' battle with England

Tokyo (AFP) –


All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said scrums and line-outs would be the key battleground as the defending champions take on a physical English pack in Saturday's World Cup semi-final.

New Zealand's surprise selection of Scott Barrett at blindside flanker has been seen as a strategic move to counter England's line-out threat, where locks Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes are a dominant force.

"The quality of your set-piece is key. And rugby hasn't changed over all the years, with all the different things that have happened to it. There's a simplicity about it. If you scrum well and line-out well, you've got a good chance," Foster told reporters.

The set-piece is going to be "a major focus for the game" with both teams expected to "really pile into each other" at the scrums and the line-outs, Foster predicted.

"It's a tactical battle in itself," he said. "That's where the war's going to be won or lost."

Prop Joe Moody refused to be drawn into a pre-match war-of-words about opposite number Kyle Sinckler, saying: "I haven't really done anything on anyone in particular."

"There is a big English forward pack. We know they are going to be pretty direct... we're going to have to be up for it to match fire with fire. Should be a big old ding-dong battle," said the 30-year-old.

Foster said England's re-selection of George Ford at fly-half in a double-playmaker role with captain Owen Farrell had not come as a surprise and noted that the English played the second half of their quarter-final in that configuration.

"They are really well-balanced team," said Foster, adding that he expected England to "play ball-in-hand" with the Ford-Farrell combination.

The All Blacks news conference was slightly delayed due to transport issues stemming from torrential rain in Tokyo and Foster said he hoped it would clear up before Saturday's match in Yokohama, just south of the capital.

"We'd quite like it to stop but we've had a number of wet games this year and you've just got to adapt and adjust. There's no reason not to. It's the semi-final of the World Cup. We'll be ready either way."