The All Blacks prepared to fly out to England for the World Cup Thursday, still haunted by the upset quarter-final loss to France in Cardiff during the 2007 tournament.
That recurring nightmare coupled with the All Blacks inability to win a World Cup away from home despite consistently dominating the rankings has forced coach Steve Hansen to ram home the message that there is no room for arrogance.
The All Blacks, the defending champions after winning in New Zealand four years ago, could potentially meet France again in Cardiff in the quarter-finals if the pools go according to seedings.
“We’ve just got to be smart about what we do during the week. We didn’t do that in ’07 and I thought that was one of our mistakes,” Hansen said.
“The catch-cry of 2011 was expect the unexpected and I don’t think we did that in 2007.
“I think we rocked up a little arrogant possibly, like previous All Blacks teams over the years may have, too comfortable having come off being the number one side for a long time and just expected it to happen.”
Captain Richie McCaw, heading into his fourth World Cup campaign, said if the All Blacks are to achieve their aim of being the first side to win back-to-back World Cups, it was important they learnt from past mistakes.
“We’ve got to make sure that we use that memory and that understanding of how little a change in attitude or just a bit of mindset can make a huge difference,” he said.
McCaw added that the squad received a timely wake-up call when beaten by Australia 27-19 in Sydney last month before bouncing back to thrash them in Auckland a week later.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t get to a Monday like we did after the one in Sydney and go ‘we need to fix this’ because we don’t get a second chance in what’s ahead.”
The All Blacks assembled at Auckland airport with Hansen saying Waisake Naholo was on track to play in the All Blacks’ third pool match against Georgia after his rapid recovery from a fractured leg.
Naholo, the top try scorer in Super rugby this year, was expected to miss the World Cup altogether before his leg sensationally healed after being treated with a traditional herbal concoction in Fiji.
“His rehab has come along really good, he trained today, and as every day goes past he gets better and better,” Hansen said.
“So he’s on track to do what we expect him to do, which is be available for Georgia.”
Hansen acknowledged Naholo’s selection was a risk “but the rewards outweigh that risk”, he said.
“He comes back against Georgia, gets another opportunity against Tonga, and then if we’re good enough we’ll be in the quarter-final, and if his form is good enough he’ll play.”
With the exception of Naholo, all the All Blacks are expected to get a run in the first two games against Argentina and Namibia with Hansen indicating he will mainly use his form players for every game after that.
The All Blacks were heading to London without inside centre Ma’a Nonu who fell ill Thursday would not board the flight as a precaution. Nonu would instead fly out on Friday night, All Blacks said on Twitter.
The All Blacks’ first game of the World Cup is against Argentina at Wembley on September 20. – Agence France-Presse