Steve Hansen has called on the All Blacks to meet the challenge of a resurgent Springboks and strike an important blow ahead of the 2019 World Cup. JON CARDINELLI reports from Johannesburg.
‘There’s an edge about this match-up,’ the All Blacks coach admitted on Thursday. ‘They beat us in the last game, and that’s why there’s an edge now that probably hasn’t been there for a while.
The New Zealanders have been based in Johannesburg all week. Hansen’s press conference clashed with the Bok team announcement, which was staged some 40km up the road in Pretoria, and yet journalists from South Africa, New Zealand and even England were on hand to probe the All Blacks coach on what could be one of the biggest Test of the season.
‘You get that after you lose to a team,’ Hansen explained. ‘It’s not a fear thing, it’s more an understanding that you have to front up and do the job properly next time. That’s when you have a real Test match on your hands.’
The All Blacks are still hurting as far as the 36-34 loss to South Africa in Wellington is concerned. While they hammered Argentina in Buenos Aires last Saturday – and secured the Rugby Championship title in the process – they won’t be satisfied until they’ve put the Boks in their place.
The All Blacks have won 90% of their Tests since Hansen took charge in 2012. They have claimed six Rugby Championship titles and a World Cup during that period. Three weeks ago, however, the All Blacks were put under pressure by a spirited Bok side and were unable to respond.
According to Hansen, that result in Wellington could be good for his charges in the long run. Indeed, it will make for a thrilling clash at Loftus Versfeld this Saturday, and further challenge the assertion that the South Africa-New Zealand rivalry is dead.
‘If you keep winning all the time, you do subconsciously miss a few things. We were under the pump in Wellington and we made some poor decisions.
‘The more you get put under pressure, the more you’re able to cope with it. It’s a skill you learn. This team hasn’t had a lot of adversity chucked in its face. Individually or as a group. So it’s something we have to learn from.’
Hansen shot back when he was asked if the Boks could take a psychological edge into the next World Cup if they beat the All Blacks again this Saturday. The two teams will clash in the Pool B opener in Yokohama next September.
‘They’ve already got that boost. There’s some belief there now, not only for the players but for everybody who supports South Africa.
‘They did well against us, and showed an improvement in the recent game against Australia. They’re winning, and if they beat us again that confidence is only going to grow.
‘We’re playing them in that pool match at the World Cup. That’s going to be a colossal game. Whoever wins this one will take something forward. It’s important that we don’t lose this week.’
Hansen clarified that next year’s match-up in Japan would be a big one regardless of the result in Pretoria on Saturday. The Boks’ performance in Wellington proved that the South Africans are a force to be reckoned with, and the reaction by the public and media over the past three weeks suggests the rivalry is very much alive.
‘They’ve been a good side for a long time. They just haven’t had that self-belief.
‘What effect does that have on the World Cup. None really. It’s more a case of you may have two sides going into that clash next year with a lot of self-belief.’