Australia play down training ground bust-up

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The Independent Online

James O'Connor described a training ground incident with Phil Waugh as "good niggle" as tensions boiled over at Australia rugby training today.

The fracas erupted towards the end of a physical two-hour session at Coogee Oval in Sydney when Waugh brought O'Connor to ground in a regulation tackle.

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After a brief scuffle on the deck, both men sprung to their feet with fists cocked before team-mate Matt Hodgson managed to separate the pair with the help of scrum coach Patricio Noriega, who frantically screamed "no punches, no punches".

The incident continues the recent trend of training stoushes which began with good mates Stephen Moore and Ben Alexander trading blows at Brookvale Oval last month.

O'Connor, who is expected to come into the starting line-up for next week's Bledisloe Cup blockbuster against New Zealand in Sydney after skipper Stirling Mortlock was ruled out of the Tri-Nations series with a knee injury, dismissed his run-in with the NSW Waratahs skipper.

"I think a lot of enthusiasm was brought today to training, it's pretty competitive as you saw, but I think we're training how we want to play - with a bit more mongrel ... but it's all in good niggle," he said.

Asked if he was happy the scuffle was separated before any punches were thrown, O'Connor laughed: "We were getting pretty competitive and I don't think either of us wanted to back down but it was good - it's all in good fun.

"I think our approach is we've got to bring a bit more mongrel to the game and step up our physicality, so I think that's what we brought to training today and like I said it was pretty intense.

"When I'm on the rugby field I get competitive and I switch into my rugby mode so whatever happens on the park stays on the park, and I'm just excited really for the next game."

George Smith, the man most likely to captain the side in Mortlock's absence, agreed the altercation is a positive sign for the Wallabies.

"I think it shows that we care about what we do and the work that we do out here on the field," he said.

"The boys want to perform and improve as players and when you do see contests like that, it shows that the players care about what they do."

Meanwhile, flanker rocky Elsom joined the squad for the first time since returning to the Wallabies fold in June.

The 26-year-old is expected to be rushed straight into the starting line-up to face the All Blacks after recovering from bone-bruising of the knee.

Star fly-half Matt Giteau sat out Thursday's session with a corked thigh but is considered a definite starter for the August 22 clash.