World Cup history to motivate All Blacks

As far as the All Blacks are concerned, the Rugby World Cup monkey isn’t off their back.

To most supporters, victory at the 2011 tournament in New Zealand relieved the angst of failure at the previous five editions since being crowned inaugural champions in 1987.

Now, they say, the world’s top-ranked side are free to express themselves at the eighth tournament in England.

There they won’t have the fear of failure that has dogged them every other time they’ve rocked up as overwhelming favourites and can showcase why they have lost just three of their last 54 Tests.

But it’s that very record which is driving coach Steve Hansen and his players harder than ever.

“This team needs big challenges,” Hansen says.

“We’ve been the No.1 side in the world for a long time and you just can’t keep plodding along doing what you always do. You need something else to get you motivated and this certainly has got them motivated.”

Hansen laid out the challenge in the bowels of Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium last November, not long after their final Test of 2014 against Wales.

He wants his side to be the first to defend the title, as well as the only team from New Zealand to win a World Cup in Europe, where they’ve never reached the final in three previous visits.

So any thoughts of relief post-2011 don’t wash.

Intentionally or not, choosing Cardiff to set the scene was appropriate from Hansen.

It was there that they crashed to the unedifying quarter-final loss to France in 2007, the earliest New Zealand have exited the tournament.

He will invoke that memory when they arrive at the same ground for their probable quarter-final in October.

Even a year ago Hansen said the quarter-final was his only focus, reasoning that if they can’t get through a weak group comprising Argentina, Namibia, Georgia and Tonga, then something had gone badly wrong.

Ireland or World Cup nemesis France are likely opponents in the last-eight match and at that stage it will come down to preparation and focus, Hansen says.

His job is to get everyone on the same page, starting with veterans such as captain Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Keven Mealamu who are at their fourth tournaments.

Players who have risen to world class status not involved in 2011 include fullback Ben Smith, halfback Aaron Smith, lock Brodie Retallick and hooker Dane Coles while among the fresh faces introduced this year are dynamo wings Waisake Naholo and Nehe Milner-Skudder.

“Whoever wins the tournament will have quite a number of world class players playing the best football at the time,” Hansen said.

“That’s what usually happens.

“So we need our new players to prove their game. We need the guys who have been here for a wee while to up their game and we need our stars to up theirs as well.

“If we do that, we make it possible to do what we want to do.”

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