All Blacks ready to copy England and 'win ugly'

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The Independent Online

Back in 2003, the Australians took one sneering look at England's narrowly-focused style of "pressure" rugby during the knock-out stage of the World Cup and asked the pre-tournament favourites: "Is that all you've got?" However little Clive Woodward's side brought to that global party, it turned out to be enough.

Only just, but enough. Eight years on, the same question is being asked by the Antipodeans, albeit in a different, slightly more respectful way.

"We will definitely run the ball," promised Israel Dagg, the spellbinding attacking full-back from New Zealand, as the hosts turned their attention to the opening match of the competition, against Tonga at Auckland's reconstructed Eden Park stadium in six days' time. "But if we need to drop goals and kick penalties to win, I don't really care. It's how the English do it. They grind teams down."

There will be mind games a-plenty over the coming weeks, but by making an early point about the gulf in dynamism between All Black rugby and the red-rose version, the hosts seem to be having a conversation with themselves as well as with everyone else. Jimmy Cowan, their scrum-half, remarked that while there were no plans to rein in the instinctive side of the New Zealand game, he would be more than happy to "win ugly" if it meant winning the competition. Even Graham Henry, the head coach, appeared to be preparing the ground for a functional approach towards claiming a first world title in almost a quarter of a century.

"I hope we've learnt from the past," Henry said yesterday as the Webb Ellis Trophy arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud. "We haven't been good at sudden-death football so we'll need a special mentality there. We'll set some goals for the round-robin part of the tournament, try to qualify well and then look separately at the knock-out phase."

With competing teams setting up camp the length and breadth of the country, England reported that Mark Cueto, the most experienced of the wide men in the party, had recovered from the back problems that forced him into an early departure from last weekend's warm-up match in Dublin. Scotland, meanwhile, were still in Australia, holding joint training sessions with the Canadian squad.

"It's nice to see different people," said Andy Robinson, the former England coach who has been heading up the Scottish operation for the past couple of years. "We've had live scrums and live line-outs, which went well for both of us. It's always good to try things against unfamiliar opposition who don't know your moves. It helps us put some structure on what we're doing."

Back home in Edinburgh, the Scottish Rugby Union announced that Mark Dodson would be the governing body's new chief executive. Dodson, who has a background in media management, succeeds Jock Millican, the non-executive director asked to perform the role on a caretaker basis following the abrupt departure of Gordon McKie in June.

Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union council was in session at Twickenham as the vicious row over John Steele's sacking as chief executive and its embarrassing fall-out continued into a third month. Paul Murphy, appointed acting chairman following the resignation of the much-criticised Martyn Thomas, was expected to be confirmed in the position, but there were precious few signs of harmony over the main issue: the investigation into the Steele affair led by the body's chief disciplinary officer, Judge Jeff Blackett, details of which have yet to be made public.

On the sports business front, the auditing giant Deloitte published a report identifying Toulouse, the four-time Heineken Cup champions, as the biggest financial hitters in Europe. They generated £27.4m in revenue during the 2009/10 season – almost £8m more than their closest rivals, Clermont Auvergne.

Leicester, by far the best-performing club in England, were placed third, but the table did not make happy reading for Premiership investors keen to see their clubs keep pace with their free-spending rivals across the water. Of the top 15 teams, no fewer than 11 are French. Northampton occupy 11th position in the table, with Harlequins and Gloucester in the bottom reaches, 14th and 15th respectively.

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