All Blacks sidestep World Cup 'pool of death'

DAVID LONG IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 05/12/2012
Steve Hansen
Photosport
STEVE HANSEN: "We are reasonably satisfied with where we've ended up and what side of the pool we're on."

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The All Blacks will face a familiar problem at the 2015 World Cup, but it's one that other leading nations will look at with envy.

The draw for England 2015 was made at the Tate Modern Gallery in London yesterday, and for the fourth straight tournament the All Blacks have avoided the favourites in the pool stage.

New Zealand have been pitted against Argentina, Tonga and qualifiers from Europe and Africa, likely to be either Russia, Romania, Georgia and Namibia.

So while there will be an almighty fight in Pool 1 where England, Australia and Wales will scrap it out for two quarterfinal places, the All Blacks' issue will be that they'll only get the Argentinian game to test themselves out in before the interesting stage of the World Cup.

The All Blacks are likely to play Ireland in the quarterfinals, who should finish second to France in Pool 4, and then the winner of the match between South Africa (Pool 2 probable winners) and either England, Wales or Australia in the semifinals.

Getting match hardened for the knockout stages could be an issue and was their undoing in 2007, but yesterday Steve Hansen, was just happy to avoid anything approaching a "pool of death".

"We are reasonably satisfied with where we've ended up and what side of the pool we're on," Hansen said.

"We're also realistic to know that a lot of things can change over the next three years, so we won't be getting carried away with ourselves.

"The World Cup is either about being first or second in your pool and then you go into knockout rugby and it's about staying in the tournament, it's sudden death.

"Everyone is going to test you. Tonga have already shown that they can beat France. If you don't respect somebody then you're going to get your rear end spanked and we're not of the opinion that we've got a God-given right to go through to the quarterfinals.

"So we'll work hard at it and we'll try to prepare the best we can to do that. Once we get through there it's a knockout competition and each game is seen as a final."

The All Blacks beat Los Pumas 33-10 in the quarterfinal stage of last year's World Cup. After an early grind, they eventually ran away with the match, thanks to tries from Kieran Read and Brad Thorn and seven Piri Weepu penalties.

But what is already evident is that Argentina will continue to improve because of their participation in the Rugby Championship.

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"No doubt they'll get better as they play big games and have the opportunity to play together for longer periods," said Hansen.

"We have already seen in November that they've been good enough to go to Wales and beat them."

Meanwhile, Hansen revealed he wants to have Richie McCaw involved in the World Cup, even if he's no longer playing.

"I'd like to think he'll make it, but nothing is guaranteed," Hansen said of McCaw, who'll be 34 at the next Cup.

"We have already talked about it and he's the sort of person who will always put the team first. If he doesn't feel like he can contribute he won't go.

"The next six months are going to be important for him, we know he's probably the greatest player to have played the game from a consistency point of view and having him in the group will be a huge bonus."

- Fairfax Media

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