Two days of intense study of the French team has taught the All Blacks they are in for a “hell of a battle” in their quarter-final clash at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday.
The All Blacks returned to training on Tuesday with an obvious edge as they started to fine tune their battle plan after a thorough analysis of how France have progressed through the tournament so far.
“We had a couple of days indoors learning and looking at who we were going to play and it was good to get out on the pitch and put things together,” flanker Jerome Kaino said.
“This is our final and we have to treat it like so and everyone’s got to put all their energy into a great performance.”
The All Blacks go into the sudden-death match as defending champions, unbeaten in pool play and having won their last eight Tests against France going back to 2009.
France, who have never won the World Cup but have twice knocked New Zealand out of the play-offs – in 1999 and 2007 – lost their final pool game against Ireland 24-9 on Sunday.
However, All Blacks backrower Kieran Read believes the French approach on Saturday will be a step up from their showing against Ireland when the game slipped away from them in the final quarter.
“French flair you’ve got to prepare for. We’re preparing for the top French team to turn up on Saturday. They’ll certainly throw everythIng at us,” Read said.
“Two teams that are very passionate about this game, about World Cup rugby, so it’s going to be a hell of a battle.”
After reviewing how France have played so far, Read said it was evident they were not a one-dimensional side.
“The French will be a blend. They have very strong forwards and are very strong around the breakdown area with their loose forwards. They’ll come hard at us there.
“They’ve got some flair within their backline and some classy midfielders so I’m sure they’ll mix it up.”
In a game which offers a semi-final berth to the victor and a ticket home to the loser, Read said the All Blacks were drawing on their remarkable record since they won the last World Cup in 2011.
They have played 51 Tests, won 46, drawn two and lost only three.
“There are learnings you can take from past experiences. Most Test matches for us over the last four years we have learnt a lot about how to get out of a few different situations,” he said.
“Certainly a play-off game heightens that pressure, that expectation. It’s not about running away from it, it’s getting excited by the challenge.”
Kaino likened the mood in the All Blacks camp to the lead up to when they last played Australia in August.
After being beaten by Australia 27-19 in the Rugby Championship, the fired up All Blacks came back with a dominant 41-13 victory over the Wallabies.
“It’s similar in terms of form getting into the game,” said Kaino, who has been capped 64 times.
“We’re slowly building and we made a step in the right direction in our last game.”