The World Cup knockout phase is the only time you know you’re facing teams giving 100 per cent in Test rugby, says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
The four-yearly tournament has become such a central plank in the calendar that most teams spend much of the intervening years working on development, says Hansen, who doesn’t get such luxury with his side.
He says the pressure to win is always high for the world champions, which is why he finds the World Cup a pleasure to attend – because all cards are laid on the table.
“You know everyone you’re playing is up for it, whereas sometimes I wonder between World Cups how other nations are driving their bus,” Hansen said.
“Whether they’re mucking around or whether they’re really serious about what they’re doing at that time.
“For us, the pressure at a World Cup is no greater than it normally is. It’s just a bigger box of chocolates at the end of it.”
The tournament kicking off in England in just over two weeks will be Hansen’s fourth World Cup, having coached Wales to the quarter-finals in 2003 before New Zealand assistant roles under Graham Henry in 2007 (quarter-finals) and 2011 (champions).
He says the only series with comparable stature to the World Cup is a Lions tour, which New Zealand host once every 12 years.
Meanwhile, Hansen pronounced himself happy with the attitude of his players and progress made during a three-day camp in Wellington following Sunday’s squad announcement.
He says the anxiety that seemed to accompany the five weeks leading up to the selection has cleared and the players were focusing clearly on their opening game against Argentina on September 20.
The squad will fly out on Thursday next week but before that Hansen will meet the 12 wider squad members who missed selection to explain why.
He will also remind them of the need to stay fit in case of injuries to the squad.
“It’s important we can get them back playing really good rugby in the ITM Cup and that they can get over their disappointment.”
Hansen says none of the players will be flown specifically to the United Kingdom to be on standby as that is against tournament rules.