Coach Steve Hansen believes the All Blacks have an advantage over the competition heading into the World Cup in Japan.
New Zealand go in search for a record third-straight Webb Ellis Cup when the showpiece kicks off in Japan next month.
But with this year’s tournament shaping up to be the most open and competitive edition to date – considering the form of several northern-hemisphere teams – there is a belief that the All Blacks could be dethroned as world champions by potentially three or four other nations in Japan.
Hansen, however, believes the All Blacks have a slight advantage over the other World Cup contenders because they are used to the pressure and expectation that comes with performing on the big stage.
Speaking to the media following the announcement of the All Blacks squad for the World Cup, Hansen said that the team is well aware of the challenge ahead of them, but that they are looking forward to dealing with the pressure of achieving what’s never been done previously by winning three World Cups in a row.
‘We know it’s going to be hard, we know it’s going to be tough and we know we’re going to have to earn the right to do it. Anything that’s worth doing, has to have those components in it,’ he commented.
‘It’ll be a massive amount of scrutiny, expectation and because of that, pressure. We’ve been fortunate enough to live in an environment with the All Blacks where the expectation is with us all the time.
‘Not only are we expected to win Test matches every time we play, but by big margins. And we believe that pressure will be something that will give us an advantage.’
Hansen was quick to deflect some of the pressure towards the All Blacks main rivals for the title, who may have detected weaknesses in his team following some uncharacteristic performances and results over the last few games.
‘It’ll be interesting to see who can cope with it and who can’t. Because the tournament will demand that they do.
‘This is where I think we have a small advantage. For some of these teams this is going to be the first time that they’re going to have to turn up and feel that pressure. And it can be overwhelming, when you haven’t had it before.’
The All Blacks will kick off their World Cup campaign against South Africa in Yokahama (Saturday, 21 September), then play Canada in Oita (Wednesday, 2 October), Namibia in Tokyo (Sunday, 6 October), and their final pool match is against Italy in Toyota (Saturday, 12 October).
All Blacks squad
Forwards: Dane Coles, Codie Taylor, Liam Coltman, Atu Moli, Nepo Laulala, Joe Moody, Angus Ta’avao, Ofa Tuungafasi, Brodie Retallick, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kieran Read (c), Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Matt Todd, Luke Jacobson.
Backs: TJ Perenara, Aaron Smith, Brad Weber, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Jordie Barrett, George Bridge, Rieko Ioane, Sevu Reece, Ben Smith.