Steve Hansen is on to Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer.
Meyer described Hansen’s All Blacks this week as “probably the best team that’s ever played the game,” and South Africa will have to produce their “best performance ever” to prevail in the Rugby World Cup semi-final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Hansen, the New Zealand coach, appreciated the compliments of his friend and South Africa counterpart, but he knew what Meyer was really up to.
“He’s a cunning, wee devil is H,” Hansen said on Thursday. “He’s just about killed us with kindness. He’s been praising us all week, and whilst I know he means some of it, at the same time I know they’re getting ready to rip our heads off.
“We need to get in that same state. If we get caught lapping up all the praise, then we won’t be in the right mental state to play.”
Hansen said it has been challenging to prepare his team after they demolished France in the quarter-finals by 62-13, the highest-ever score in the knockout stage.
The defending champion All Blacks underwhelmed in the pool stage, then delivered a compelling performance in Cardiff last weekend that was exulted all over the world.
“Externally, everybody’s got a little carried away with themselves and made some outrageous statements,” Hansen said. “Internally, there’s an emotional high that comes with playing like that, and it’s really important to get a fullstop on it as early as possible.
“Yes, you’ve got to enjoy that moment, you can’t get away from that, but you’ve got to get a fullstop on it, otherwise you don’t go from great (performance) to great (again) – you go from great to struggling.”
Hansen changed only the loosehead prop in his line-up for the semi-final, after Wyatt Crockett hurt his groin. Joe Moody, who replaced Crockett against France for his ninth cap, will start. Ben Franks moved into the reserves.
Moody joined the squad less than two weeks ago, as the injury replacement for Tony Woodcock, the 118-cap prop who tore his hamstring in the last group stage win over Tonga.
Hansen said there was no debate about who would play. Moody was a specialist loosehead, while Franks could cover both sides of the frontrow.
Crockett should be OK next week, he said, but as a precaution the All Blacks received permission from the tournament organisers to fly over uncapped Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu. For now, he cannot train with the squad.
The only other doubt was regarding winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has recovered from a shoulder injury to start, and will oppose Bryan Habana.