Nothing short of an All Blacks victory goes down well in New Zealand.
That kind of pressure could compound anxiety ahead of the Rugby World Cup semi-final against England. But skipper Keiran Read says he and his team are used to it, and wouldn’t have it any other way. “Of course, people are going to say we’ve failed if we don’t win, but the nature of the All Blacks and the scrutiny we have, the expectation is to win,” Read said. “England are good enough to win, and that’s all we’re focusing on.”
New Zealand haven’t lost a Rugby World Cup game since the quarter-finals in 2007, winning the titles in 2011 and 2015 and now getting within one victory of a third straight final.
England’s Australian coach Eddie Jones has spent this week hyping up the All Blacks aura and the expectations that brings. His New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen isn’t buying into it.
“We’re under pressure all the time. I think early in our history, we ran away from it so it was chasing us down the street,” Hansen said. “But these days, we’ve had to acknowledge it’s there; now we’re expected to win every game whether it’s quarterfinal, semi-final or just an ordinary Test match.
“But it would be naive to think that there’s not pressure on both sides and, when you can publicly acknowledge that it’s on you, then there’s an awareness – and that same pressure’s running down the same street he [Jones] is on.”
Hansen made only one tactical change to his starting line-up, bringing Scott Barrett, pictured, on to the blindside flank to add some height and bulk and an extra lineout option.
Barrett replaced Sam Cane at half-time in New Zealand’s 46-14 quarterfinal win over Ireland last weekend, with Ardie Savea switching roles to play on the openside. That’s how the back row will start tomorrow, with Read recovering from calf muscle soreness to take his place at No 8.
“The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically,” Hansen said.
Barrett has never started a Test in the back row, although he has gone on as a replacement flanker eight times and once as a No 8. He’ll no doubt get some advice from his father Kevin Barrett, a back-rower who played provincial rugby and raised three All Blacks on his farm.
Scott, or “Scooter”, Barrett joins his older brother, full-back Beauden, in the starting XV. They’re also rooming together this week. Their younger brother, Jordie, is on the replacements bench.
“It’s great to room with him,” Beauden Barrett said. “He’s clearly got his rugby head on because the other night he was sleep-talking and was calling out lineout moves. That was going through his head, that’s for sure.”