The All Blacks’ selectors have reduced their risk exposure by naming a near full-strength side to face Argentina in the Rugby Championship opener on Friday night, but the reality is that some players’ World Cup chances could be damaged if they fail to fire at AMI Stadium.
Coach Steve Hansen has cautioned his men against stressing too much about whether they will make the 31-man World Cup squad, allowing it to sabotage their performances.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has backed Israel Dagg, pictured at the captain’s run at AMI Stadium, to quickly strike top form before the World Cup.
The pressure, however, is building and time is fast expiring for those men, experienced or otherwise, to impress selectors Ian Foster, Grant Fox and Hansen.
Of those in the starting 15, fullback Israel Dagg, wings Waisake Naholo and Charles Piutau and lock Luke Romano may feel they have the most to prove. None of those on the bench would be bold enough to declare themselves as certainties to travel to the global tournament.
Captain Richie McCaw, like Hansen, would be perturbed if team-mates start making uncharacteristic mistakes or try to create miracle plays in a bid to impress the selectors. McCaw’s message will be along the lines of stay calm, keep improving and carry on.
The 34-year-old, who is just four tests shy of overtaking Brian O’Driscoll’s world record of 141 caps and will make his final appearance at AMI Stadium, emphasised he expects standards to be raised after the All Blacks failed to dominate Samoa during the 25-16 win in Apia last week.
Treasuring possession when recycling it on the floor, protecting it in contact, improving the handling, being more dominant in the forwards; all would probably have been included on the post-match tip sheet.
Shouting and thumping tables has never been McCaw’s style, and even if it was there would have been no need to remonstrate with his players following the match against Samoa.
“I didn’t need to say too much,” McCaw said. “Most of the boys there were out there realised that standard going forward isn’t going to be good enough but you can’t get yourself in too much of a hole over it. There’s probably some reasons for it. The key is to get some learnings from it and make sure that the things we got wrong, we don’t this week.
“That’s what being in this team is all about. Learning fast and we have to make sure we do that. The expectation is that we improve.”
Given the forecast for chilly weather and a dewy ball, a forward-orientated structure appears inevitable to be included in both team’s game plans.
Asking Dan Carter to kick more often behind the opposition back three of Joaquin Tuculet, Horacio Agulla and Santiago Cordero and using bulky midfielders Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu to burst over the advantage line, rather than employ the width game sighted against Samoa, may be preferred.
One area of interest will be whether the All Blacks are confident enough to lunge for contestable kicks in the air.
Trigger-happy officials almost rubbed this out of the game during the Super Rugby season and the All Blacks, who have utilised this attacking ploy to fine effect in the past, will be keen to see if referee Craig Joubert can rule this part of the game sensibly.
Pumas captain Agustin Creevy admitted his team must play the game of their lives to create an upset against a side they will meet in their first World Cup pool match at London’s Wembley Stadium on September 20.
“But we know that we are getting closer to them and we are learning about playing against them and, one time, the possibility of winning, will come.”
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