The All Blacks seem content to leave Eddie Jones to fire his salvos solo ahead of the heavyweight opening Rugby World Cup semifinal against England in Yokohama on Saturday.
While the England coach opened up the mind games at a typically robust and at times bizarre press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, the All Blacks have steadfastly played it with a straight bat leading into their day off in a sunny Tokyo on Wednesday.
Senior lock Sam Whitelock continued a theme of respect and caution laid out by his coach Steve Hansen when he warned of the threat posed by a multi-faceted England side and steered well clear of any potential flash points in the leadup to this intriguing clash.
According to Jones, all the pressure in this matchup is on Hansen’s All Blacks in their quest for an historic title threepeat and he says his team more or less has a full swing at their crack at a first World Cup final since their defeat to the Springboks in 2007.
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He also playfully alleged his team was spied on at their Tuesday training session, though did not go as far as to suggest the culprits had any connection to the New Zealand camp.
Jones was at his mischievous best through an entertaining top table act in which he pointed out that the All Blacks were the second favourite team of 120 million Japanese people.
“There’s no pressure on us,” he declared. “We’ve just got to have a great week, relax, train hard and enjoy this great opportunity. Whereas they’ve got to be thinking about how they’re looking for their third World Cup and so that brings some pressure.”
Jones also spoke of his belief that the experience of the controversially deadlocked Lions tour in 2017 had injected much-needed belief in his side, and doubt in the All Blacks.
SNTV via AP
Eddie Jones says England were “spied on” ahead of their Rugby World Cup semifinal with the All Blacks.
“They played in their backyard,” he said of the hefty England presence on that tour. “They know they’re human. They bleed, they drop balls, they miss tackles like every other player. It’s our job to take the time and space away so that we put them under pressure.
“New Zealand talk about walking towards pressure; well this week the pressure is going to be chasing them down the street.”
Whitelock, who has played England eight times in his 116-test career (for seven victories and the single 2012 defeat), was decidedly complimentary when he toldStuffthat England posed multiple threats with a style more adaptable than they’re often given credit for.
“Four or five years ago we played them four times in one year, and everyone said we played them too much,” he said of a rivalry that has featured just one matchup since 2014. “The next couple of years everyone was saying we never play them.
“They’ve got a great forward pack and they can play a couple of different styles. They can play that direct style of scrum, maul, lineout – all those things. But they’ve also got a lot of flair too. They’ve got quality players who can change a game with a bounce of a ball or a back strike move.
“Teams that are hard to play against have a couple of different styles and can change within a game what style they’re playing. They might play expansive or hide the ball away. We’ve just got to be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
The 31-year-old who is one of three All Blacks chasing a personal World Cup title hat-trick shrugged off lack of familiarity being a factor, with last year’s 16-15 nailbiter in the rain at Twickenham the only matchup between the two nations since those four meetings in 2014 (all won by the New Zealanders).
“With the homework every player does, and the information that’s fed in, I don’t think it’s a massive concern,” he said. “The way the game is now you can get different views from different games, and you should know your opposition pretty well. You just have to go looking for it.”
And then Whitelock went into crack defensive mode, a la the All Blacks in the first half of their quarterfinal against Ireland last Saturday.
Was this his toughest game since the last World Cup?
“How good is it being involved in a knockout game at the World Cup … you don’t want to be right there on Monday – you’ve got to take your time so you get where you need to be rather than all wound up and ready to go [too soon].”
Did last November’s great escape at Twickenham suggest a serious challenge was looming?
“Every game is a challenge … playing England in a Rugby World Cup knockout game is massive. These will be some of the biggest games us as players will be involved with.”
On England’s ability to slow ball down:
“Part of it is looking after your own ball. Teams go out to try to slow it down. They’re good at that, so hopefully we can be ready so we can play at the speed we want to.”
Two teams, two decidedly different mindsets.