Pressure on New Zealand 'is nothing new'
AUCKLAND, 13 Oct. - The weight of a nation’s expectations is resting on the men in black jerseys as they prepare to face Australia in Sunday's Rugby World Cup 2011 semi-final and All Blacks assistant coach Steve Hansen is taking it in his stride.
“I’d say it’s been like that for four years,” he said, referring to the nation’s disappointment when New Zealand was knocked out of the RWC 2007 quarter-finals by France.
"Everyone feels pressure, it's how you react to it that's the key. We're really excited and looking forward to the challenge of the semi-final. It doesn't get any bigger.
"As long as you can walk towards the pressure then you're in control of it, it's not in control of you."
As one of the men alongside head coach Graham Henry in Cardiff four years ago, Hansen certainly has credentials when it comes to dealing with do-or-die rugby.
"I'd like to say do rather than die,” he told a press conference at the team hotel on Thursday. “It's a massive game, clearly, and the winner gets to carry on.”
Hansen, who also coached Wales to the quarter-finals at RWC 2003, says preparation is key.
“The preparation's got to be dead-set genuine and you've got to take yourself to the right places mentally,” he said. “You've got to make sure you've got your game plan clarity right.
"Once you've got clarity you can have intensity and purpose about what you do and that gives you accuracy as well.
"If we can get those things tidied up, then we get on the track on Sunday night and it's going to be all on."
While conceding that some of that clarity in the game plan has been disrupted by the injury-enforced spate of new arrivals in the New Zealand squad, Hansen believes the likes of Aaron Cruden, Stephen Donald and Hosea Gear are capable of learning on the run.
Simplicity is key
"Obviously the two five-eighths have had to do a lot of work and H (Gear) has just come in. He'll have to do a lot of work if he gets named but we've a pretty simple game plan,” he said.
“We like to keep it as simple as possible, so it's not too hard to learn it. It's just a matter of understanding it.”
Hansen also believes the onus is on the more experienced members in the team to rally around the newcomers in the squad, particularly in the all-important fly half position.
“As we said when DC (Dan Carter) got injured, the guys around Crudes (Cruden) and (Colin) Slade have to stand up and do a little bit extra,” he said. “It's not Aaron Cruden who has to do the extra bits and it's the same this week.
“Your top players in the big games have to play as top players, you can't afford them not to be world class and that'll be what it's like on Sunday.”