Nervous wait for All Blacks hookers

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NZPA     13 Nov 2010     Getty Images

Andrew Hore and Hika Elliot find themselves in a similar position- both figuratively and literally.

Mealamu's involvement in the second leg of the Grand Slam tour hinges on tomorrow's (SatNZT) International Rugby Board appeal committee's review of the four-week ban he received for head butting England captain Lewis Moody at Twickenham last weekend.

Should the three-member panel uphold Professor Lorne Crerar's sanction and end the 82-cap hooker's tour with stops at Ireland and Wales to come, an uncapped understudy and a mate who has not played since May will take centre stage in the front row at Murrayfield on Sunday (NZT) and beyond.

Hore and Elliot have fought back from contrasting adversity to occupy Mealamu's likely void, though issues remain for the pair.

For Hore, match fitness is his pressing concern after a shoulder dislocation necessitated a six-month lay-off.

After 47 tests Hore's pedigree is unquestioned; his lung capacity is another matter.

If Mealamu or Elliot, who will start if the veteran's appeal fails, succumbed early could he last, say, 70 minutes?

"It won't be pretty towards the end there," Hore admitted.

"There's nothing like match fitness so it'll be interesting to see how much time I get and how I get through."

At least he had no qualms about that first engagement with a Scottish pack that will fancy causing Owen Franks more angst after Andrew Sheridan had an effective outing at loosehead for England.

"Once you get out there you forget about everything and rip into it," he said, hoping this comeback lasts longer than his previous return from injury against France in Dunedin last year.

"I came back from the ankle (injury) and lasted about 10 minutes. If that happens again I might start looking for a new job," he joked.

Hore appreciated the faith shown in him by Graham Henry who selected him in the knowledge he could not play in Hong Kong against the Wallabies -- or London.

"It was always going to be a little bit touch-and-go to make the end of year tour so hopefully I'll get a bit of footy and build from there."

Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith also chose 23-year-old Elliot on trust after the mobile though technically suspect scrummager was overlooked following his cameo role on the 2008 Grand Slam tour.

The last resort to join that trip after Hore was injured, Elliot played Munster when Corey Flynn broke an arm and then saw his stocks plummet through ill discipline.

"I let my standards slip on and off the field especially with my training," he confessed.

"It's pretty easy to get caught up in the hype of being a professional rugby player at 21 or 22."

A year older, and wiser, Elliot maintains he has got to grips with the lifestyle.

"I've tried to grow and mature into a better rugby player on and off the field. I'd like to think I've changed."

However, missing selection for the New Zealand Maori team to play England in June had him on the verge of leaving Hawke's Bay for overseas.

"After missing out I had to reassess my situation and decide whether I wanted to stay in New Zealand or whether I go overseas and play footy."

He ultimately re-signed with the NZRU and the Chiefs, selection for next year's World Cup squad the end goal.

"At the end of the day I really have a desire to play in the World Cup. That was a huge factor for me in staying."

Meanwhile, Scottish hooker Ross Ford doubted the All Black scrum could be considered a potential weakness if Mealamu's ban stood.

"He's a good player but anyone asked to represent the All Blacks will be a quality act," he said.

"Our intention is to be aggressive and dominant in the set piece, that's what we want do regardless of who's coming in."