New Zealand head coach Ian Foster wants his team to show some “edge” as the All Blacks seek to sew up a quarter-final spot in their final Rugby World Cup pool match against Uruguay on Thursday.
Having plundered 25 tries and 167 points in their last two matches against Namibia and Italy, New Zealand are expected to beat Uruguay at a canter.
Foster acknowledged his task is to ensure his team does not lose focus or take Uruguay lightly.
“You can’t motivate a team falsely because it shows in performance. So, you’ve got to get real about it,” he said.
“We’ve got so much to achieve ourselves. That’s a fact. We are not in a quarter-final yet, so we’ve got to make sure we do that.”
Uruguay have impressed in this tournament, competing admirably against a largely second-string France before losing 27-10.
That was only three points fewer than New Zealand managed in their 27-13 loss to the hosts.
“We are playing against a team that basically had the same scoreline against France as what we did,” said Foster.
“That deserves a lot of respect and if you watch that game, these guys, I love their attitude.
“I think they’re a really passionate rugby team and if we’re not in the house, then we are going to struggle.”
Uruguay, though, lost to an Italy side that New Zealand have just thrashed 96-17 and the South Americans are unlikely to put up more than fleeting resistence.
Foster acknowledged that it is harder to motivate a team to face Uruguay than one of the world’s best teams, such as France, but said the motivation must come from within.
“For us, we are at our best when we are on edge,” said Foster.
“Sometimes our opponent puts us on edge, sometimes the situation puts you on edge, but at all times your own internal standards have to be the edge that really matters the most.”
Uruguay have ‘leading jackler’
This will be the first meeting between the two nations and comes at a time when Uruguayan rugby is thriving.
The Tier II country earned plaudits for their enterprising play in defeats to Tier I France and Italy (38-17).
Uruguay led Italy 17-7 at half-time before an early second-half yellow card cost them dearly as they conceded four tries in 15 minutes.
Ten minutes into the second half against France they trailed only 13-12. Although the hosts pulled away, Uruguay denied France an attacking bonus point.
Uruguay’s club franchise, Penarol, is the two-time reigning champions of the Super Rugby Americas competition that also features teams from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay and the United States.
“Uruguay represent some pretty significant challenges in many areas of the game for us that perhaps we have to get better in for the future,” said Foster.
“We also know they are highly combative at the breakdown. They’ve basically got the Rugby World Cup’s leading jackler in their team.”
Uruguay flanker Manuel Ardao has been a menace at the breakdown, getting involved in 32 defensive rucks and forcing six turnovers, the most effective player in the competition in both areas.
Foster rang the changes, bringing back veterans Sam Whitelock and captain Sam Cane among nine new faces.
Uruguay coach Esteban Meneses made six changes but stuck with the same half-back pairing he has had for the whole tournament with fly-half Felipe Etcheverry starting alongside scrum-half Santiago Arata.
New Zealand need a bonus point victory to ensure their place in the quarter-finals, while Uruguay could also make the knock-out stages, but would need to beat the All Blacks by at least 80 points.
Uruguay are realistic about their chances.
“You always prepare to win a game. On paper and in reality it is something else,” admitted assistant coach Pablo Bouza.
“Playing as equals for much of the game is part of the objective. We are convinced that we will have the drive and intensity.”