New Zealand will be looking to capitalise on any unnecessary risks South Africa choose to take in their Rugby World Cup opener on Saturday, according to boss Steve Hansen, who is hoping to lead the All Blacks to a third consecutive title in Japan.
The hotly-anticipated match between the two old rivals on just the second day of the tournament is set to ignite the World Cup; and Hansen is rightly wary of the Springboks following their Rugby Championship victory earlier this year.
Under Rassie Erasmus, South Africa have seen a dramatic uptick in form and have only lost once in their last seven matches, including a draw with New Zealand in July.
However, Hansen is the most experienced coach in world rugby and will be ready to exploit any chances South Africa give his players.
“Their defensive system has changed a lot. They roll the dice big time,” Hansen said on Monday after training.
“Their wingers come in off their wings – that’s what rolling the dice is. And they’re good at it. Very, very good at it.”
“You want them to roll a couple of ones, rather than a pair of sixes,” he added.
“If there’s one thing I do know, South Africa will give us opportunities because they roll the dice. Are we good enough to take them? Will the weather allow us to take them? We’ll have to wait and see.”
With Italy, Namibia and Canada the other teams in Pool B, regardless Saturday’s result New Zealand and South Africa expect to continue their records of qualifying for the quarter-finals at every World Cup in which they have featured.
Hansen was quick to point out Saturday’s match would not define the entire campaign.
“Logic will tell you whoever wins this game, probably wins the pool,” said Hansen.
“But as we found it in 2011, you don’t have to necessarily win the pool to get into the final. France did it the other way.”
“It’s not the end of the world (if you lose), and it doesn’t mean you are going to win the World Cup or get into the final because you win this game.”
Still five days out from the match, it is crucial that Hansen keeps a lid on his players’ excitement.
“There’s a big test match, a big box of chocolates at the end of the week,” he said.
“You can’t eat them on Sunday because there will be none left for Saturday. We’ve just got to take our time and get our clarity, get our intensity building during the week and arrive Saturday full of energy.”
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