LONDON (Reuters) - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen is determined to keep the squad grounded and not allow their minds to wander beyond their opening World Cup clash with Argentina as he bids to prevent complacency scuppering their title defence.
The All Blacks come into this year’s tournament in England as hot favourites to retain the trophy they won on home soil four years ago.
It is a familiar role for the twice winners, who rarely set out on a World Cup campaign without elevated expectations of success.
Yet Hansen wants keep his team focussed on their opening clash at Wembley next Sunday against Argentina, who as New Zealand’s first opponents assume the de facto title of the biggest threat to their World Cup crown.
“They are the next game we play so they are our biggest threat,” Hansen told reporters at the team’s hotel in London.
“I’m not going to sit here today and say who the threats are, because that’s not being respectful.
“We haven’t earned the right to sit here and say who’s going to play in the semi-finals, quarter-finals or finals.
“If we earn the right to get through to there then whoever it is on the other side of the white line will be the team that’s the biggest threat...
“If you take your eye off the ball, you’ll lose the ball - you don’t want to do that.”
Once the Argentina clash is out of the way, the All Blacks face Namibia, Georgia and Tonga in Pool C in what is likely to be a straightforward route to the knockout stages.
Then the hard work of making World Cup history begins as Hansen’s side chase the double goal of becoming the first All Blacks side to win the tournament on foreign soil after home triumphs in 1987 and 2011 and the first team to win consecutive titles.
The tournament is likely to be the most open in its history, according to Hansen, who claimed “there are a number of teams playing well enough to win it.”
One of their potential rivals for the trophy, Australia, are preparing to field two entirely different teams for their first two games against Fiji and Uruguay to counter the impact of a four-day turnaround between matches.
The All Blacks, who have the same gap between their opening games against Argentina and Namibia, are not going to follow suit.
“We don’t think we can afford to do that,” Hansen said.
“We think that would be disrespectful to Argentina, and what happens if one of the guys to play Argentina gets injured?”
Reporting by Toby Davis, editing by Pritha Sarkar