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Smith: Recalling World Cup defeats will help NZ

Updated: September 16, 2011, 22:15


HAMILTON, New Zealand(AP) With France up next for New Zealand, veteran center Conrad Smith says it's not a bad thing to be reminded of past All Blacks failures at the Rugby World Cup.

France is responsible for New Zealand's two most shocking exits in the cup; in the 1999 semifinals, when the All Blacks blew a 24-10 lead, and in the 2007 quarterfinals, when they were raging-hot favorites again.

The All Blacks and France meet in a pivotal Pool A match next Saturday in Auckland.

Smith, who played his 50th test in the 83-7 rout of Japan on Friday night, said recalling their underachieving World Cup history since winning the inaugural title 24 years ago would boost the All Blacks.

"As a team, generally we'll deal with the struggles of World Cups gone by,'' Smith, considered one of the deeper thinkers in the squad, said Saturday. "If we look at our World Cup history and past failures, it might give us the edge that we need to succeed in this tournament.

"It's important to understand our failures. We need to lift our game. We can't rely on what we've done in the past. Winning (the) Bledisloe (Cup) and Tri-Nations is all good but it hasn't helped us win a World Cup.''

Smith didn't play in the quarterfinal loss to France four years ago but he was in the squad and watching from the stands in Millennium Stadium.

"Personally, I think it's a good thing I don't have that scarring as some of the other boys do, but I was still there,'' Smith told a news conference at the team hotel, still sporting a swollen upper lip and a couple of head scrapes the morning after the Japan match.

Smith has won all four of his tests against France, and was looking forward to the pool clash.

"It's clearly the biggest game of our pool for us and we've got a bit to do beforehand,'' he said. "Their ability to attack will put us to the test. It'll be something we haven't faced in the past few weeks.''

He considered the Japan game a good hit-out for the All Blacks after a poor finish to the opening win over Tonga

"We were determined to get our game going, and we did that at times. Although it opened up to a large extent, it was nice to get that confidence and some opportunities, because you won't get the same opportunities in tougher games,'' he said. "Knowing what to do when those arrive is a good thing.''

Smith had a standout game in Friday's romp, and was excited for his inside backs Ma'a Nonu and Colin Slade. Nonu, with whom Smith has played 31 tests in midfield, had a brilliant game, running over and through Japanese tacklers, setting up tries and scoring one himself.

"He's pretty devastating when he's like that,'' Smith said. "He's an influential member of the team and it's great to see.''

The All Blacks had a disrupted buildup for the Japan match, with playmaker Dan Carter, captain Richie McCaw and veteran fullback Mils Muliaina all withdrawing due to injuries after being selected in the team.

Smith said Slade, the seven-cap flyhalf who overcame a rough start including missed goalkicks and dropped passes, was "fine.''

"He played really well under the circumstances,'' he added. "When he was thrown in, it was crazy what we went through two days before, but he took it upon himself to direct us in the game really well.''

The All Blacks headed Saturday to Christchurch on a goodwill trip to the city devastated by two major earthquakes in the past year. The entire squad will be in New Zealand's damaged second city, which was stripped of all of its World Cup games, until Wednesday when it will return to Auckland.

Smith rejected any notion the trip would be a distraction, saying the team had eight days until the France game and ample time to prepare.

"Christchurch has showed us a lot of support and we want to show them that we care and the whole of New Zealand cares for that city,'' Smith said. "The lift we get out of it and the lift Christchurch gets out of it will be well worth it.''

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