Hansen: All Blacks are coping with Cup pressure
Updated: October 12, 2011, 19:38
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) Steve Hansen says the All Blacks are coping with the pressure ahead of their Rugby World Cup semifinal against Australia on Sunday, and are well aware of the desperation of New Zealanders to end their long drought at the tournament.
"Everyone feels pressure, it's how you react to it that's the key,'' the All Blacks co-coach told a news conference Thursday.
He said the All Blacks, particularly he and his fellow coaches Graham Henry and Wayne Smith, were aware of how New Zealanders might react if a loss to archrival Australia ended the team's quest for its first World Cup title since 1987.
"We've felt that for four years,'' Hansen said, referring to the gloom that affected New Zealand after the All Blacks' quarterfinal elimination in 2007. "We're really excited and looking forward to the challenge of this semifinal. It doesn't get any bigger.
"We've got a group of players at the moment who are really excited about what's coming up.''
Hansen said the All Blacks had to concentrate on preparing as well as possible for Sunday's match, to ensure they were able to apply a simple game plan in what was likely to be a white hot atmosphere at Eden Park.
"It's a massive game, clearly,'' he said. "The winner gets to carry on so the preparation's just got to be deadset genuine and you've got to take yourself to the right places mentally and you've got to make sure you've got your game plan right.
"Once you've got clarity, then you can have intensity and a purpose about what you do and that gives you accuracy as well. So 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.''
Players and coaches from both sides have cited the breakdown as a crucial area, likely to be the scene of an intense individual duel between New Zealand's Richie McCaw and Australia's David Pocock, the world's best openside flankers.
Pocock was a pivotal figure in Australia's 11-9 quarterfinal win over South Africa, but Springboks fans have since claimed he was allowed by New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence to breach the rules. A Facebook petition started in South Africa and calling for Lawrence to be denied future international appointments had 55,000 members by Thursday.
Hansen said Lawrence would probably be "disappointed'' with his performance in the quarterfinal and said South Africa's Craig Joubert, who will referee Sunday's semifinal, would control the breakdown more effectively.
"He's (Joubert's) pretty good but how's he going to do it on Sunday night we don't know,'' he said. "He's human and he'll make decisions based on what he sees or he thinks he's seeing. It's pretty clear what you're allowed to do and not allowed to do but you get variation every week, don't you?
"I'd say Bryce is probably a bit disappointed with how he did it last week. You're not allowed to go off your feet and you're not allowed to hang onto the ball after he says 'ruck.' You've got to let it go so if they (referee like) that, great, we'll all have a good game.''
Hansen has an experience in common with Australia coach Robbie Deans: both are New Zealanders who have coached other nations in tests against the All Blacks. Hansen coached Wales before becoming a member of New Zealand's three-man coaching panel while Deans, a former All Blacks fullback, was New Zealand's co-coach at the 2003 World Cup, five years before his Wallabies appointment.
Hansen said the experience of coaching another team against New Zealand was "weird.''
"It's like playing your brother, a family member,'' he said. "It becomes a little bit personal I guess and you really want to be successful.
"I guess that's how Robbie's feeling but he's done it plenty of times now so he's pretty used to the feeling. It's usually the first couple of times that I found it a little bit weird.
"And it's the reverse too. Within a month I'd coached Wales and then come back and coached the All Blacks against Wales and that was a bit weird too. All the Welsh people were screaming at me one week liking me and the next week I was coaching the All Blacks and they hated me. You get used to it.''