NZ have one eye on RWC

2013-11-01 07:44
Richie McCaw (Getty)

Tokyo - New Zealand's fearsome All Blacks will have one eye on the future when they face Japan on Saturday as they tread the long road towards their world title defence in 2015.

Unbeaten in 10 Tests this year, the All Blacks will be barely recognisable from the team which overcame Australia 41-33 last month when they meet Japan's 'Brave Blossoms' for the first time outside the Rugby World Cup.

Even with 14 changes to his starting line-up, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen still enjoys the luxury of fielding arguably two of rugby's greatest ever players in 'Captain Marvel' Richie McCaw and flyhalf Dan Carter, both returning from injury.

Ruthlessly business-like in their two previous encounters, New Zealand's lop-sided World Cup victories over Japan have resembled cricket scores, pulverising them 83-7 two years ago and by a record 145-17 in 1995.

"We are not looking at the margin of victory," Hansen insisted before the game in Tokyo. "What we're looking at is our own performance. If we can put on a performance we can be proud of, the margin is irrelevant."

Having upset a weakened Wales team in June in a breakthrough 23-8 home win, Japan's preparations were rocked when coach Eddie Jones suffered a mild stroke two weeks ago.

He remains hospitalised and Hansen warned his players that Japan would come out fired up. "They will have an extra bounce in their step and they'll play for Eddie," he said.

"But everyone's done their homework to do their job with the intensity that's normal for an All Black."

The All Blacks travel to Europe to face France, England and Ireland to complete their four-Test tour after playing Japan.

Hansen will play open-side flank McCaw at number eight in his 121st appearance for the All Blacks, to give understudy Sam Cane more game time in the position.

"It's a subtle change and Richie's a smart man," said the 21-year-old Cane, brazenly undaunted by the huge shadow cast by New Zealand's inspirational skipper.

"Richie's got a cool, calm head and demands the best from those around him by performing on the park. As a leader your actions always speak louder than your words and he's obviously done that very successfully over the years.

"I just keep trucking," shrugged Cane on his future chances of permanently dislodging McCaw from his position. "Anyone can have a good Test and then slip away.

"I'm just trying to keep improving and be consistent. A few starts builds confidence and then hopefully I can put the pressure on."

Japan's interim coach Scott Wisemantel promised his side, starting their own preparations before hosting the 2019 World Cup, would not simply roll over, despite the daunting task facing them.

"We have to score tries," he said. "That's the reality, because New Zealand will score points. But we're not going out there with a defeatist attitude just to compete. We will attack them."

Japan captain Toshiaki Hirose echoed those sentiments. "It will be a battle," said the wing. "The All Blacks are the best in the world, but we want to do Japan proud."

Hansen's only concern could be complacency given the gap in class between Saturday's opponents and those in their next three games.

"If you take your foot off the pedal you fall off the bike and graze your knee," he said. "We don't want to do that."

Cane's hunger and desire suggests Hansen has little to fear, although the future star's game face slipped momentarily when asked about the bright lights of Tokyo.

"I've been to Hong Kong before but Tokyo is busier than that," said the youngster from New Zealand's rural Bay of Plenty.

"We caught a few trains and managed to get back safely."

"The dumplings have been a big hit too," he added with a broad grin. "A few of the guys have been tucking into them for breakfast, lunch and dinner."

A New Zealand XV trounced Japan twice in 1987 - in Osaka and Tokyo - but neither game was given Test match status.

The All Blacks last visited Japan in 2009 for a Bledisloe Cup match against Australia, which they won 32-19.

Read more on:    all blacks  |  richie mccaw  |  rugby

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