New Zealand’s head coach, Ian Foster, expects his team to be on their toes as the All Blacks try to secure a place in the quarter-finals after their final group game of the Rugby World Cup against Uruguay on Thursday.
After amassing 25 tries and 167 points in their last two matches against Namibia and Italy, New Zealand are expected to beat the South Americans in a heartbeat.
However, Foster knows all too well that it is his job to ensure his team does not lose focus – and not to underestimate Uruguay.
“You cannot falsely motivate a team, because it shows in their performance. So you have to stick to reality,” says Foster.
“We ourselves have so much to achieve. It is a fact. We are not yet in the quarter-finals and we must ensure that we get there.”
Uruguay has so far delivered an impressive performance at the tournament. They performed commendably against France, although the team ended up losing 27-10. It was just three points less than New Zealand accumulated in their 27-13 defeat against the host nation.
“We are playing against a team that basically had the same score against France as us,” says Foster.
“It deserves a lot of respect and if you look at that game – those guys – I love their attitude. They are a really spirited rugby team and if we don’t fire on all cylinders, we will struggle.”
Uruguay nevertheless lost to Italy, a team that crushed New Zealand 96-17, and the South Americans are not likely to offer much more than fleeting opposition.
Foster admits that it is more difficult to motivate the team against Uruguay, than it would be, for example, to get them fired up before a game against one of the world’s leading teams – such as France.
“We do our best when we are tense,” says Foster.
Rugby in Uruguay is thriving
The match is the first showdown between the two countries and takes place during a boom period for rugby in Uruguay. The team was praised for their spirit of enterprise in games against France and Italy.
In the game against Italy, Uruguay was leading 17-7 at half-time, but a yellow card in the second half cost them dearly and they conceded four tries in just 15 minutes.
In the second half of the match against France, they were only 13-12 behind after ten minutes and although the hosts gave up after that, Uruguay nevertheless deprived the French of an attacking bonus point.
“Uruguay represents significant challenges in many areas of the game that we may need to improve on in the future,” says Foster.
“We know they are fiercely attacking at the breakdown points.”
Uruguay’s flanker, Manuel Ardao, is a huge threat at the breakdown points and nowadays holds the record as the player who was able to reverse possession the most times in a World Cup match.
Foster has made several changes to the squad and veterans Sam Whitelock and captain Sam Cane are among the nine new faces.
Uruguay’s coach, Esteban Meneses, made six changes to his team, but kept with the same link pair he used in the last tournament: fly-half Felipe Etcheverry and scrum-half Santiago Arata.
New Zealand need a bonus point win for a place in the quarter-finals. Uruguay can also make it to the knockout rounds, but in that case the All Blacks will have to beat them by more than 80 points.
Uruguay are realistic about their chances.
“You always prepare to win a game, but a thing on paper and reality are quite different from each other,” says assistant coach Pablo Bouza.
“To play on an equal footing for most of the game is part of the goal. We are convinced that we will have the drive and intensity.”