Rugby

All Blacks warn Australia, Japan they can still elevate their game

by Rich Freeman

Kyodo

If Australia and Japan are to beat the All Blacks in the coming weeks when they meet in Yokohama and Tokyo, respectively, they will have to defeat a side which, by its own admission, can “still get better and smoother in some areas.”

New Zealand may be the two-time defending and three-time World Cup champion but, as assistant coach Ian Foster said Tuesday, “I don’t think we’re ever pleased. We’re a grumpy bunch in some ways.”

It is also a side that never looks beyond the next game, meaning all its thoughts for the moment are on Australia, which it faces at Nissan Stadium on Saturday.

“As much as we are loving being here we haven’t thought much about (Japan) in terms of the game coming up. That’s just us,” Foster said.

“We’re probably not smart enough to think two games in advance. We know how much Australian games take out of us. For us it’s a massive opportunity to play well away from home and to get a little bit of a simulation of what is to come next year (at the 2019 Rugby World Cup)

“We’ll deal with the Japan challenge when it comes, but we’ve seen enough from them to know it will be a significant challenge.”

That desire to take one game at a time will, Foster said, be equally important next year in Japan when the All Blacks look to once again get their hands on the Webb Ellis Cup.

“What we are doing here and now is great preparation,” he said. “It’s about learning to concentrate on one challenge in front of us. We know that if you don’t do the one at a time well enough you’ll get bowled.”

The All Blacks have not lost two successive games since 2011 — a run of 99 tests — so the chances they fall twice while in Japan, even with a weaker side against the Brave Blossoms, is slim to say the least.

After the test against Australia, 22 of the 32 players on the main squad will head to Europe with an additional 19 players flying in to prepare for the game against the Brave Blossoms.

The additional players, 10 of whom are uncapped at test level, will then return home while the main squad members travel on to London to rejoin their teammates ahead of matches against England, Ireland and Italy.

Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup game at Nissan Stadium kicks off at 3 p.m., while the All Blacks-Brave Blossoms match on Nov. 3 at Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium gets underway at 2:45 p.m.

Japan warms up for its clash with the All Blacks with a game on Friday evening at Osaka’s Hanazono Stadium against a World XV, with kickoff set for 7.