Auckland. The All Blacks launch a four-year build up to their defense of the World Cup on Saturday against Ireland with new faces, a new head coach and a pledge to be even better than before.
They will not rest on their laurels with an immediate target to preserve their unbeaten record against Ireland, captain Richie McCaw declared as the side wrapped up their pre-Test training on Friday.
Although the All Blacks have a history of being slow starters each year as new combinations are bedded in, McCaw backed coach Steve Hansen’s pledge to “hit the ground running and running hard” against Ireland.
There was no time to dwell on their World Cup success where they scraped home 8-7 against France in the final, he said.
“Life moves on and it’s just exciting to be back in the All Black jersey and playing a Test match at home,” he said. “From the experiences we had last year we’ve go to step up and use them to our advantage. If we’re not trying to be better then we might as well go and do something else. That’s the attitude I’ve seen and (against Ireland) is the best place to start.”
Ireland have made no secret that they see the first match in the three-Test series as their best chance of producing their first win over the All Blacks in a 24-Test history that dates back to 1905.
They enter the Test also fired up by Scotland beating Australia during the week and their own victory over Tri-nations champions Australia in the World Cup eight months ago.
Both sides have a new look about them with Ireland missing the injured Paul O’Connell, Stephen Ferris and Tommy Bowe and introducing new caps Simon Zebo on the wing and prop Declan Fitzpatrick.
Hansen, now running the All Blacks after eight years as assistant coach to Graham Henry has retained only seven starters from the World Cup final in his run-on side and brought in new caps Aaron Smith at scrum-half, lock Brodie Retallick and wing Julian Savea.
Smith has leaped ahead of the three World Cup scrum-halves used by the All Blacks last year with his rapid pass and speed around the field which are expected to benefit fly-half and backline general Dan Carter.
However, with less than a week together, McCaw said the All Blacks may lack cohesion and “accept there’ll be some mistakes but it’s how you react to those things that’s the key”.
He said although Hansen’s coaching methods were “slightly different” to Henry, much of the All Blacks game plan was unchanged and “hopefully we’ve done enough this week to ensure we can perform”.