Welsh fire warning at Kiwis
WELSH forwards have warned they will retaliate if their playmaker Lee Briers is roughed up by the Kiwis in tomorrow morning's Four Nations clash at Wembley.
The threat comes as New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney vowed there'd be no backing off the harassment of kickers which led to several flashpoints in last weekend's 26-12 defeat to Australia - "you get away with what you're allowed to get away with,'' he said - and conceded five-eighth Briers had been a major focal point of planning for the Kiwis' second match of the tournament.
Big Welsh prop Craig Kopzcak told APNZ that if Briers was taken high or late, his pack would respond in a similar fashion to Australia's Matt Scott, who became involved in a dust-up with Jeremy Smith last Saturday (NZT) when Johnathan Thurston was harassed kicking the ball.
"It's down to us as a team to protect him and hopefully we can do that,'' Kopzcak said. "It was a bit of a tussle [last week]. It's our teammate at the end of the day and if they're going to come in late, we're going to protect our friend. It's all in the spirit of the game, but ... Briersy is used to it and I'm sure he'll find a way to get the kick away.''
Despite Russell Packer's suspension for a challenge on Darren Lockyer in Newcastle and Smith and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves angering the Aussies last week, Kearney insisted the campaign of intimidating tactical kickers would continue.
And the extent to which Briers can expect a torrid afternoon was best exemplified when New Zealand prop Ben Matulino was asked about his side's preparation.
"At the moment we know just about the half,'' he said. "We know he's been around for a while and he's got a good kicking game and that's pretty much it.''
The Kiwis should still have too much firepower for Wales, despite their focus on Briers, to set up a crunch match with England next weekend - the winner is likely to play Australia in the final.
England beat Wales 42-4 last weekend but Kearney was clearly taking the Welsh, who are playing in their first Four Nations, seriously and is fielding close to his best side for the match.
Warriors skipper Simon Mannering is being rested after playing every club and international game this season and Issac Luke, who came under scrutiny for his 'cannonball' tackle against Australia's David Shillington, has been left out.
"You get away with what you're allowed to get away with,'' Kearney said when pressed on their tactics in pressuring the kicker.
"We need to [apply pressure] because Briers is a fair kicker of the footy. We'll be doing what we think's going to work for us.
"That's a little area where it's important for our game to try to limit their kickers from getting good kicks away so, yeah, we'll be applying the same pressure that we have.
"Last week, Jeremy Smith's chargedown, I didn't think there was a great deal in that. Obviously Russell Packer paid the price for his kick-pressure the week before.''
The Welsh are expected to be fined for showing up late and without their jerseys to a photo opportunity at Wellington Arch yesterday. Coach Iestyn Harris, who snubbed the following media conference, too, preferred to run a video session for his players. Harris earlier said it was important to "match the Kiwis' aggression''.
New Zealand hooker Thomas Leuluai, meanwhile, described the rucks during the tournament so far as a free-for-all.
"You got away with a lot more than you would in the NRL,'' he said, "... even Super League, I reckon. The stuff in the ruck, it was a free-for-all, really. You just get out there, the first couple of tackles you see how far you can push it.''
Clearly, the Kiwis plan to find out where that point it.
Kiwis: Kevin Locke; Gerard Beale, Alex Glenn, Lewis Brown, Jason Nightingale; Benji Marshall (c), Kieran Foran; Jeremy Smith, Adam Blair, Sika Manu, Beb Matulino, Thomas Leuluai, Sam McKendry. Interchange: Nathan Fien, Jared Wearea-Hargreaves, Elijah Taylor, Fui Fui Moi Moi.
Wales (squad): Chris Beasley, Andy Bracek, Lee Briers (c), Neil Budworth, Ross Divorty, Gil Dudson, Ben Flower, Tyson Frizell, Jordan James, Danny Jones, Craig Kopzcak, Elliot Kear, Peter Lupton, Christiaan Roets, Matt Seamark, Ian Watson, Ian Webster, Lloyd White, Rhys Williams.
Referee: Matt Cecchin.