KYOTO, Japan (Reuters) - New Zealand have never lost a pool match at a Rugby World Cup and even if being drawn against South Africa in Wednesday’s 2019 draw might threaten that record, coach Steve Hansen said he was happy that his team would face a decent challenge.
The All Blacks have not had that problem in the early stages of the last two World Cups, outscoring their opponents by a cumulative 316 points and running in 61 tries in eight pool matches.
They went on to win the Webb Ellis Cup in both tournaments and will therefore be going for a third straight triumph in Japan.
“We don’t control who we get. We are happy to be in a pool to provide some challenges,” Hansen said at Kyoto’s State Guest House.
“South Africa are a team we know well, Italy we played recently. It’s all about our preparation, we have to finish in the first two to qualify, and if we happen to qualify, we could play Japan and it would be a historic moment.”
New Zealand beat Italy 68-10 in Rome last November.
The All Blacks could find themselves playing hosts Japan in the quarter-finals if one of them tops their pool and the other finishes second.
Despite a recent slump that has seen the Springboks drop to seventh in the world, Hansen had high hopes for the clash.
“They are a team that knows us very well, we know them very well, and there’s a lot of good history between the two teams,” he said.
“It will be one of the games of the tournament and hopefully we’ll both play really great rugby and inspire the tournament to go to a higher level.”
Springboks coach Allister Coetzee reprised the popular coaching canard that you have to beat the best to win the World Cup, but former flyhalf Joel Stransky told Reuters that facing the All Blacks so early was a double-edged sword.
“The advantage is that win or lose you can learn a lot from the game, and that can help make you stronger for the rest of the competition,” said Stransky, who scored all of South Africa’s points in the 1995 final victory over the All Blacks.
”There is also the advantage that you won’t play them in the quarter-final and maybe even the semi-final ...
“The downside is that they are so good that if you get a real walloping, that can kill your self-belief and also inspire other teams to believe they can beat you as well.”
New Zealand’s Pool B will also include Italy, a team from Africa, and the winners of a repechage round, which usually provides one of the weakest teams in the tournament.
“Italy will have some self-belief in terms of playing us, and that will not be an easy game. But obviously as the Springboks there is the expectation that they will make it out of the pool,” Stransky added.
“Understanding that we had a low ranking, we knew we were always going to have a tough pool, but we have it within us to get better and improve ahead of the World Cup,” he said.
Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro in Kyoto and Nick Said in South Africa; Writing by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Hugh Lawson