Connolly, McKenzie to clear air.....after beans night....

By Bret Harris, The Australian
March 31, 2007

NEW South Wales coach Ewen McKenzie will meet Australia coach John Connolly as soon as possible to sort out their differences.

McKenzie has alluded to Connolly waging a smear campaign against him to undermine his candidacy for the Wallabies job after the Rugby World Cup in France in September-October.

His comments followed Queensland coach Eddie Jones accusing Connolly of 'planting a story' in the media about him being sacked from the Reds if he did not resign, an allegation Connolly has denied.

McKenzie said at the Waratahs' captain's run yesterday that he had telephoned Connolly about the matter. The Wallabies coach has also denied undermining McKenzie.

The pair agreed to meet face to face to discuss their differences.

"We had a discussion about doing that," McKenzie said.

"The timing is difficult at the moment with the Brumbies next week, the Reds the week after.

"But no doubt we'll have a chat down the track.

"I've got a game to worry about at the moment. We'll worry about other matters another day."

It is little wonder that McKenzie has other things on his mind at the moment than Connolly.

The Waratahs, languishing in second-last position on the Super 14 table, face six-time champion, the Crusaders, at Aussie Stadium in Sydney tonight.

At least the Waratahs will not suffer from the weight of expectation after six games without a win.

"It's a bit like playing the All Blacks in some respects," McKenzie said.

"We have engineered to play these guys (in pre-season) as often as we can so we have the advantage of playing an extra game against them in the trials.

"We played our last trial game this year against them and won it.

"Familiarity helps us in that respect. We played those games without our Wallabies.

"If you keep playing the best teams you start to feel you can be competitive. Obviously, we have to make it happen. That's a test for us.

"No one is picking us to do well and that's not a bad environment to be in going into a game like this.

"The absence of injured All Blacks five-eighth Dan Carter will not alter the Crusaders' approach.

Rookie five-eighth Stephen Brett, who has been described as the next Dan Carter, started in all of the Crusaders' games until Carter and the other All Blacks returned last weekend.

The Crusaders will miss Carter's class, but the strategy will remain the same.

"There are fundamental things that you do when you play the Crusaders," McKenzie said.

"We've had some tactics we've used over the last few years. There are thing we know work and things that don't.

"It's important to make sure the guys understand what those things are and you've got to try to get it to happen on the field."

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans will be warning his side against complacency, and for good reason. Sydney has not been kind to the Crusaders, who have lost three of the five games they have played in the harbour city.

"We have a good record here, overall," McKenzie said.

"We are playing at home and the crowd will be over 30,000, so we have to make sure we get stuck in."

The Waratahs have reshuffled their backline once again in an attempt to reignite their attack.

Sam Norton-Knight will start at five-eighth for the Waratahs for the first time, while whiz-kid Kurtley Beale has been moved to fullback and Peter Hewat shifted to the wing.

After scoring three tries in their win against the Lions in Johannesburg in the opening round, the Waratahs have only managed to score five in their past six matches.

This contrasts sharply with the Crusaders, who have scored 24 tries in seven games.

"There's some good logic behind what we are doing," McKenzie said.

"Every time you change things you potentially lose some cohesion.

"We've run a lot of these combinations before. We haven't been tested in games, but they have existed in training.

"I don't think we need to be scared about trying things, given where we are at the moment."

The Waratahs received some good news yesterday when number eight David Lyons declared he was fit to play after corking a thigh at training on Tuesday.

Injured Wallabies forwards Phil Waugh (ankle) and Dan Vickerman (knee) ran yesterday and are hoping to play towards the end of the series.