Stand-in captain Kieran Read says it’s time for the real All Blacks to stand up at the Rugby World Cup.
Three underwhelming performances have done little to engender confidence in the defending champions heading into a quarter-final against either France or Ireland.
They have one last chance to flex their muscles properly in pool play when they face Tonga at Newcastle’s St James’ Park on Friday.
No.8 Read, skipper in place of the injured Richie McCaw, wants his team to send a reminder to the other RWC hopefuls of what a humming New Zealand team is capable of.
“Every time we get a chance to show what the All Blacks can do and what the All Blacks are all about, we want to take that responsibility,” he said.
“It’s important to take a step-up in what we’ve been doing.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen revealed this week that patchy wins over Argentina, Namibia and Georgia can be partly attributed to their tactical approach at the tournament so far.
Hansen says they have been anxious to not reveal their hand in the pool phase and have instead played in a way to challenge themselves.
Not helping has been a heavy training workload which will ease off as the knockout phase nears.
Assistant coach Ian Foster says the team can feel criticism starting to mount around their performances but they won’t feel pressure to deviate from their plan.
“It’s important we don’t get carried away with trying to get bigger than we are,” he said.
“At the moment, we just want to play our game. We feel like we are getting parts of it together and if we can get that right against Tonga, it will have been a really good week for us. If that keeps a few punters happy, it’ll be exciting, too.”
Second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu plays his 100th game but plenty of interest will be outside him, where wingers Nehe Milner-Skudder and Waisake Naholo both get a chance to impress while Julian Savea is rested.
Little-used Naholo needs to shine on the unfamiliar left wing if he is to oust the in-form Milner-Skudder in one of the most contested positions heading into the quarter-finals.
Dan Carter will also want to reassert his authority at first five-eighth following a sub-par outing against Georgia while the pack as a whole will target a cleaner flow of ball than it has managed against their minnow opposition.