A 68-point victory over Namibia has sent the All Blacks into their bye week on a positive note, but there is no escaping the criticism of recent losses that hang over the team.
As if being in a World Cup wasn’t enough pressure as it is, New Zealand find themselves in the unfamiliar position of sitting in second place in their pool, after France ended their all-time win streak in the opening stage of the World Cup.
The loss leaves the All Blacks with no room for error in the hunt for a quarter-final birth, with the upcoming clash against Italy a decisive contest in the pool.
There is no mistaking the bye week for a rest week with the nature of the upcoming schedule keeping the New Zealand camp very much on their toes.
“The good thing about this week is that we’ve got a few bodies coming back training which is great,” All Blacks forwards coach Jason Ryan told The Breakdown.
“We head off to Bordeaux for a few weeks, our language is definitely that it’s not a week off, it’s a week to freshen up a few areas in our game which we know we need to.
“It gives us a chance to put a lot of work into ourselves before we really start having too much of a look at Italy.”
The return of some first-choice starters will bring much-needed punch to an under-pressure forward pack, with injuries to multiple loose forwards forcing selectors to bring in versatile forward Ethan Blackadder as a replacement for injured winger Emoni Narawa.
“We’re just looking forward to getting all our bodies back and getting our strongest team out there,” Ryan added. “It’s been a bit of a mix for us and we know that.
“When you look at Italy, this is a big Test match. Make no mistake, this is a final. We will prepare accordingly.
“Just making sure the boys are fresh, sharp and happy more than anything. But, challenging them.”
Challenging the players is a trademark of Ryan’s coaching style.
The former Crusaders forwards guru was brought into the squad following the Ireland series loss in 2022 and immediately demanded an environment of accountability within the camp.
There’s no room for procrastination or beating around the bush with Ryan at the helm.
“I don’t need them 100 per cent edgey on the Monday or next week when we’re training in Bordeaux, but I need them to be really accountable in meetings so we can fix things straight away.
“If we’re at training and we’re doing different scenarios, we’ve got to fix it. We can’t walk past it, we can’t avoid it, we fix it there and then. So, that’s when the edge comes.”
A gruesome injury in the Namibia Test resulted in a wholesome rugby moment when Namibian second five-eighth Le Roux Malan was visited in hospital by New Zealand midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown, proving the comradery that exists throughout the highest level of the sport.
The respect for Malan was expressed also by fans who applauded the 24-year-old as he was taken from the field.
“It’s a credit to France and how they’re getting in behind it,” Ryan said of the crowds. “Hopefully, that player from Naimiba is okay, it was great to see their boys come in the shed (after the game), there was a few selfies going on, a few flags being signed. One guy brought in about 10 hats that we signed,” he laughed.
“It was all good, it’s all part of it.”2023-09-20T08:14:17Z dg43tfdfdgfd