It may still be over a week away but the interest in New Zealand’s World Cup opener against South Africa is occupying plenty of the build-up time in Japan.
It was centre of attention at assistant coach Ian Foster’s first press conference in Kashiwanoha on Wednesday, especially in relation to the South Africa-Japan game at the weekend and the South African choice to play without the ball for long periods.
Foster said he had watched the game and said it was hard to get a proper gauge, in a pre-World Cup setting, because teams were trying different things.
However, he added it was necessary to be careful when trying one thing in games only for other things to catch you out in the next game.
“I think we saw a very brave Japan team play with a lot of possession and really challenge the South Africans defensively for large periods of the game whereas the South Africans were probably more intent on working on their kicking game,” he said.
The All Blacks had known their opening game would be against the long-time rival for some time and were prepared.
“We love the draw because it’s meant we’ve turned up and there’s no excuses, there’s no waiting for us to get used to the intensity, it’s right in front of us,” he told the All Blacks’ official website.
“We’re about to face a very confident South African team but they’re going to face a very determined All Black team. It’s going to be a great way for the tournament to get underway.
“We’ve got a game that we’ve tried to develop and been growing, we like to attack, we like to play with ball in hand and for us the challenge is the skill level and the decisions we make there, but also the choices we make of when to do it and when not to do it but All Blacks’ rugby, we try to play a fast game, and that won’t change.
“Ultimately, we know they’re going to be 100 percent prepared in a week’s time. We’ve got to make sure we are.”
Foster said the training schedule had been changed to mornings in order to avoid the heat of the afternoon. The afternoon temperature was around 38 degrees Celsius and it was 32 in the morning. After their first big training session on Wednesday they were very pleased with how it went.
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The welcome the side had received in Kashiwanoha had been overwhelming and the squad would be looking to get out among the community, who had been so supportive, on Thursday.
While some players with niggles had been held back last week the coaches were pleased with how they had performed and they had put the side in a good spot.
Foster said the week the side had in preparation was the first time in three years they had such a week without a game at the end of it.
“It’s a great week for us to really hoe into some work,” he added.
“That’s probably why I’ve got a bit of a bounce today because we’ve had a really solid training session, there was some good learning there and the guys are feeling good about what we’re doing and we’ve got more time to get that right.”
Foster said fly-half Richie Mo’unga was tracking well. He hadn’t played Tonga as a precautionary move so this week was about him graduating back into full training and he was expected to be fully fit and available.
Asked to comment on the All Blacks’ winning percentage being slightly lower post the 2015 World Cup compared to after the 2011 World Cup he said: “The journey that you take to this point is important in terms of building your game, building your confidence and winning has always been important to us but really it doesn’t mean much now.
“Everyone knows there are a number of candidates who are putting their hand up to be favourites for this tournament and that’s based on good form and some victories and a number of teams have had victories that we’ve looked at and said, ‘Wow, that’s a team that could really threaten’.
“It’s going to be an exciting World Cup because of that and the rest is just smokescreen really.”