All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has attempted to crank up the pressure on England and his counterpart Eddie Jones by citing the team’s pool stage exit at the 2015 World Cup.
Jones said this week that New Zealand will have ‘pressure chasing them down the street’ ahead of their semi-final meeting on Saturday but Hansen, aiming to steer the All Blacks to a third consecutive World Cup, believes there is plenty of pressure on England too.
“That same pressure’s running down the same street we’re on. I’ve got memories of a tournament four years ago that didn’t go that good for them,” Hansen said.
Hansen also laughed off spying suggestions after Jones said their first training session this week had been filmed – although the Australian had not suggested New Zealand were responsible.
“Eddie and I both know that all is fair in love and war. There is nothing better in war than throw a wee distraction out that you guys (media) can’t resist. It’s the best clickbait in the world – someone’s spying on us. He didn’t call at us. He was very deliberate in not doing that.
“He talked about it being somebody else. It was probably the same bloke who videoed us when we were there, but everyone has jumped on it and he’s been successful in getting the clickbait…He was very particular about what he said, that someone had filmed their training. He said it could have been a supporter. He didn’t say New Zealand did it.
“The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically, ahead of the weekend,” he added.
Scott Barrett has been surprisingly named to start at blindside flanker with Ardie Savea shifting to the openside of the scrum, with Hansen appearing to be targeting England’s line-out.
Sam Cane, who had operated in a twin-openside combination with Savea since the All Blacks match against Australia in Perth in August, has dropped to the bench for the clash at Yokohama Stadium.
Barrett, who normally plays at lock, spent about 15 minutes of the 46-14 quarter-final victory over Ireland last Saturday playing in the No 6 jersey in what coach Steve Hansen said had been a tactical decision.
A year ago he came on against England early in the second half at Twickenham to give the All Blacks extra options at the lineout, where they subsequently caused all sorts of disruption on England’s throws.
The 25-year-old’s inclusion in an otherwise-unchanged starting side from that which beat Ireland adds an extra dimension to the All Blacks lineout and some additional size in the collision area.
Patrick Tuipulotu will come onto the bench as the specialist lock replacement. Cane’s move to the bench has meant there was no place for Shannon Frizell, who had been tipped to replace the injured Matt Todd as loose forward cover.
Todd injured his shoulder against Ireland and Hansen ruled him out of contention for the semi-final earlier in the week.
“The team is exactly where we want to be, mentally and physically ahead of the weekend,” Hansen said. “In these moments pressure is bandied around quite readily. However that pressure is always there whenever you play quality opposition, regardless of who you are.
“It’s about how you handle that in the moment and not getting distracted.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who missed training earlier in the week with a calf muscle injury, was named for his 126th Test.
Hansen also retained his young backline, which has an average age of 25, and will be anchored by Beauden Barrett at fullback and Richie Mo’unga at flyhalf in the dual-playmaker role the coach has preferred over the last 18 months.
Sonny Bill Williams will again come off the bench to provide some punch in the midfield in the second half.
England name their team later on Thursday.
New Zealand: 15-Beauden Barrett, 14-Sevu Reece, 13-Jack Goodhue, 12-Anton Lienert-Brown, 11-George Bridge, 10-Richie Mo’unga, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Read (captain), 7-Ardie Savea, 6-Scott Barrett, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Nepo Laulala, 2-Codie Taylor, 1-Joe Moody. Replacements: 16-Dane Coles, 17-Ofa Tuungafasi, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Sam Cane, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Sonny Bill Williams, 23-Jordie Barrett.