Stop the Kiwi sledging, Gillard begs

Julia Gillard has begged the Wallabies to do her proud, if only to stem the stream of rugby-related sledging from her New Zealand counterpart.

The Australian prime minister squeezed in a quick catch-up with the boys in gold during diplomatic talks in Auckland, making sure to test her ball skills and encourage them to go well in the Rugby World Cup.

She jokingly complained of “perpetual abuse” from Kiwi PM John Key during the two days ofPacific Island Forum talks in New Zealand.

“Somehow Mr Key would find a way of working (a) sledge” into every the pair talked about, Ms Gillard said.

She was good-humoured when handed not one but two All Blacks jerseys over the course of the conference, but seemed relieved to be gifted a Wallabies top on Thursday.

“Hopefully this will give you some ammunition to pass back out to John Key,” newly-appointed captain James Horwill told her.

“I’ll need it,” she joked back, before adding “we better make sure that we’re in a position to engage in some mocking back at the end of all of this.”

Coach Robbie Deans played down his sides winning chances however.

“We’ve got a great opportunity, a great challenge in front of us and we’ll make the most of it and see what comes of it,” he said.

He warned New Zealand not to take for granted a win against Tonga in the first game of the tournament, saying the Pacific Islands have the potential to shock.

“We suffered at the hands of Samoa recently,” Deans said.

“That’s what’s great about the World Cup. All the players are available and back from their offshore contracts so the combinations that you meet aren’t the typical Pacific Island combinations. They’re genuine, top-end representatives from those countries.”

As for whether Ms Gillard demonstrated ball skills worthy of selection, Deans politely dodged the question and thanked for her dropping by.

“It’s great to have her down here and meet with the blokes and give them some words of encouragement,” he said.

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