The common assumption with rugby followers is that New Zealand rugby teams are never intimidated. Never concerned to the point of second-guessing their preparation. Yet, due to meet Ireland, and without good build-up in their World Cup preparations, could the All Blacks management be nervous?
Possibly nervous is not the word. Apprehensive, and in two minds. All due to the late cancellation of their final Pool B match – not perfect build-up for any side.
You might think that the New Zealand team could react to that better than most. That they have the most precise operations that such an interruption would not upset their program (as it might do to others). And with the available resources, yes they can cope much better. Yet, without proper competition, the fear that All Blacks management could hold is of players being underdone.
Listen to Steve Hansen though, and you would think the team are pleased. “Having a week off is not a bad thing,” said Hansen. “So, we’re quite excited by that fact.”
In all honesty, not playing a tier-one match in three weeks is a real concern. That would bring valid concern for any International team. Concern for the coaches, leadership, rugby commentators and most importantly, NZ rugby fans. Although outwardly, the men in charge of the All Blacks would never allow anyone to see how they truly feel.
Could All Blacks management be nervous #NZLvIRE
Speaking in front of packed press conferences, head coach Steve Hansen; often substituted by Ian Foster, the All Blacks management is very good at ‘coach speak‘. The art of deflection, misrepresenting tactics and generally trying to sidestep the issues.
So when Hansen spoke to media at his Tokyo hotel, his experience and ability to alter the public perception, could be seen as either brilliant, or….hiding the truth. It may be the nerves over the condition of leading players [in terms of game fitness] are just under the surface. Hidden, unless you look close enough.
What steps have been lost in the all blacks management’s preparation?
The All Blacks coaching group will have planned on exposing Brodie Retallick to more rugby. The same for Jack Goodhue. Minutes on the field, hard contact in the case of Retallick, and in general play.
To continue developing the connections of Beauden Barrett/Richie Mo’unga, Ardie Savea/Sam Cane/Kieran Read, and Joe Moody/Codie Taylor/Nepo Laulala. Each has variants where a substitute player could be introduced with little disruption yet, after less than formidable opponents since the South Africa test on Saturday, October 5, how confident can the management group be?
Nervous or not, Steve Hansen told media that every team can bring their best game against New Zealand. “Most teams we play get up 10 percent better than they normally do. They are no different. The big difference here is it is a do or die game for both teams.”
Skirting the issue is often a tactic used by leading coaches. Hansen would also say, “They’re a quality side. They’ve been No.1 this year and the last three results are loss, win, loss, so there won’t be any complacency in our camp.
That fact may just naturally generate apprehension. Of your opposition valuing a win higher at the Rugby World Cup – although this opposition, has succeeded in victory on occasions that were not encased in a tournament situation.
New Zealand players must adapt quickly to Knockout Rugby
There is no denying the history of New Zealand at Rugby World Cups. Mostly positive in recent history, although tinged with heartache. Knockout rugby has not always been kind – the All Blacks have progressed to the quarterfinals at every tournament they have played at. It is just the progression to the semifinals and the Cup final, where the success rate drops.
Kieran Read (see main photo, right) is a veteran of three World Cups. So his familiarity, along with Sam Whitelock and Sonny Bill Williams is very different from that of George Bridge, Anton Lienert-Brown or Ardie Savea. How one player copes is very different from the other. The same applies to Ireland, so Joe Schmidt may have similar concerns to Ian Foster. But, his side has played four matches.
Going into Saturday’s clutch match, the preparations for both sides will be completely different. Ireland will have recovery sessions, to overcome their satisfactory 47-5 win over Samoa. Bodies will be toughened, by games against Russia, Japan [a loss] and their opening game with Scotland.
A seven try win and qualification for the quarter finals secured – @ConorMurray_9 was happy with Ireland's controlled and sustained performance against Samoa today.#TeamOfUs #IREvSAM #ShoulderToShoulder
— Irish Rugby (@IrishRugby) October 12, 2019
New Zealand are trying to simulate those conditions. Coming off games against Namibia, Canada and their familiar foes, South Africa. It is just that the timing and space in between their last match and October 19, is one concern.
Enough to make your typical All Blacks fan nervous. To make your typical rugby coach nervous, so what makes the All Blacks management any different?
One is experience. 100 tests in charge for Hansen, 100 test as assistant for Foster, and with a thorough plan. Even while the contingency to relocate or, to even delay their match against Italy has let their prep down, then outwardly, this group will do their best to not let it show. Publicly that is.
Behind closed doors, rugby watchers can assume anything. It might be keeping Hansen up at night. They may be looking at things ‘outside the box’. Talk of inviting Japan Top League teams to oppose them, or even an eliminated International side [although, extremely unlikely in the strict controls of World Rugby].
But they have several strengths to rely on. Super Rugby is the best ground to learn about knockout rugby. Where the ability to peak, to motivate the group, and to adapt. So if those factors can be built upon, and the nerves (if any) are controlled then the All Blacks might well progress further in Japan, without anyone fully realizing if Steve Hansen, Kieran Read or any player or All Blacks management ever openly, admits to being nervous.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images