The gloves came off Thursday ahead of the New Zealand – South Africa World Cup semi-final when All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rejected South African platitudes as gamesmanship.
The reality is they want to “rip our heads off,” Hansen said, while adding the All Blacks biggest motivator was fear of losing.
New Zealand and South Africa, two of rugby’s fiercest rivals, face each other Saturday with Australia against Argentina in the second semi-final on Sunday.
The buildup had seen a flow of compliments between the All Blacks and Springboks camps, talking of respect both on an off the field.
South African coach Heyneke Meyer went as far as rating the All Blacks class of 2015 as “the best team that’s ever played the game.”
But Hansen put a stop to the pleasantries when naming his semi-final side on Thursday — with the only change being Joe Moody replacing injured loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett — saying it was time to see the game for what it really is.
– ‘Cunning’ Meyer –
“A cunning we devil is Heineken”, Hansen said, using his nickname for Meyer.
“He’s been praising us all week. Whilst I know he means some of it, at the same time I know they’re getting ready to rip our heads off and we need to be in that same state.
“If we get caught up in lapping up all the praise we won’t be in the right mental state to play.”
The All Blacks entered the semi-finals with a 62-23, nine-try thrashing of France. South Africa had a much tougher time, needing a late try to beat Wales 23-19.
Despite the lop-sided nature of the All Blacks win, Hansen claimed his side were still not at their peak.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best rugby. We went through the pool stages and (the media) were telling us we were struggling, which I really appreciated because it kept us on edge and then we played really well,” he said.
“There were a number of reasons why we did. A, because it’s life-or-death, you either win or you go home.
“It’s the same this week. You either stand up and be counted or you go home. Or even worse you play that other game (for third) and we don’t want to do that and I’m assuming South Africa don’t either.”
Hansen said the fear of not making the finals was a reality within the All Blacks camp and it was something to be respected.
“It’s a stupid man that doesn’t fear. If you go into a fight and you don’t fear the guy your fighting then you’re either fighting the wrong bloke or your stupid,” he said.
“That fear just heightens everything. It makes sure all you’re emotions are in the right place so you can deliver the performance you need to.”
The All Blacks meanwhile have called up Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu to join them in London, but not as an official member of the squad while they wait to see if Crockett will be over his groin injury by then. – Agence France-Presse