New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen believes that South Africa counterpart Heyneke Meyer’s lavish praise of the All Blacks this week is a World Cup semi-final tactic.
Hansen says that Meyer has “just about killed us with kindness,” during the build-up to Saturday’s heavyweight showdown at Twickenham.
But he also feels the Springboks supremo, who on Wednesday labelled New Zealand as “the best team ever,” has a method behind his public adulation.
“Heyneke has praised us a lot this week, and that is a tactic,” Hansen said. “Behind closed doors, I don’t think he will be doing that with his team. He is trying to paint a picture that they [South Africa] will have to play the best game they’ve ever played in their life.
“At the same time, he is trying to tell our guys that you just turn up and win. We would be very foolish to fall into that trap. We’ve got to turn up with our ‘A’ game, and a little bit more.
“He’s a cunning wee devil, Heyneke. He has been praising us all week and, while I know he means some of it, I know they’re getting ready to rip our heads off.
“If we go lapping up all the praise, then we won’t be in the right mental state to play.
“Moving that to one side, we’ve always had a good friendship, and it’s a bit of a tradition that if you win the game, you buy the other guy a beer. If you lose, it sucks. We’ve both had our turn to buy, so we will wait and see who buys at the weekend.”
Hansen has made one enforced change, with loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett missing out due to a groin injury suffered during last weekend’s 62-13 quarter-final victory over France. Joe Moody replaces Crockett, with Ben Franks moving on to the bench.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw, meanwhile, will set a new record of leading his country for the 12th time in a World Cup Test match, and Hansen paid him a glowing tribute.
“He started out in 2001 and got player of the day, and he has been player of the day in every other. A hundred and forty odd. I’ve lost count. I can’t count past 10,” Hansen added.
“He has been an exceptional player. But it is not only his ability to play the game, it’s his leadership. He has become one of the great leaders of world rugby, especially under pressure.
“He is well supported by Kieran [Read] and the rest of the leadership group, so there is a lot of mental fortitude there. We have been through some tough times, and had success in those tough times, and that breeds a deep-seated self-belief.”
New Zealand were rightly acclaimed to the hilt following their nine-try demolition of France last Saturday, but Hansen knows how big a task lies ahead if the All Blacks are to claim a record 13th successive World Cup win and reach their second successive final.
“The hardest thing about this week’s preparation is coming off the back of such a great win,” he said. “Externally, everybody has got a little bit carried away with themselves and made some outrageous statements. Internally, there is an emotional high that comes with playing like that.
“It is really important to get a full-stop as early as possible. You’ve got to enjoy that moment, and you can’t hide from it, but you’ve got to put a full-stop in there, otherwise you can go from great to struggle. We believe we’ve done that. If we get that right, we can go and have another great performance.”
New Zealand team: to play South Africa in World Cup semi-final at Twickenham on Saturday. B Smith; N Milner-Skudder, C Smith, M Nonu, J Savea; D Carter, A Smith; J Moody, D Coles, O Franks, B Retallick, S Whitelock, J Kaino, R McCaw (capt), K Read. Replacements: K Mealamu, B Franks, C Faumuina, V Vito, S Crane, T Kerr-Barlow, B Barrett, S B Williams.