All Blacks expecting strong French effort
All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read said the heightened awareness and intent associated with the play-offs stages of the Rugby World Cup was something the side were prepared for.
Facing France, their final opponents at the 2011 World Cup in Auckland, New Zealand acknowledged their respect and said they were preparing for the top French side to turn up at the weekend.
"They have very strong forwards, who are really strong around the breakdown area. They will come hard at us there, but they have got some flair in their backline and some pretty classy midfielders," Read said.
He was expecting a blend of those qualities to put the All Blacks to the test.
"You've got to prepare for the old French flair. They have been playing some pretty good rugby throughout this World Cup and they have some pretty good leaders.
"Here we have two teams that are very passionate about World Cup rugby and it's going to be one hell of a battle," he said.
Comparisons with 2011 were not valid. They were two different teams. New Zealand had learnt a lot in the four years since that tournament, not the least being ways to get out of a few situations.
"The game has certainly stepped up in speed and physicality, but I think that's the nature of sport around the world," he said.
Fellow loose forward Jerome Kaino said the All Blacks made a step in the right direction against Tonga and after a couple of days indoors assessing their opponents it had been good to get onto the pitch on Tuesday to start putting things together.
"We are slowly building. This is our final and we are going to treat it like that. Everyone is going to put all their energy into the game," he said.
New Zealand didn't need to have a challenge to be at their best and with the leadership of the side, and the experience in it, they set standards of expectation regardless of who they were playing.
The knockout reality of the quarter-final was sufficient to demand the best from everyone.
"We have been challenged by all of the teams we have played and that has prevented us from putting in the performance that we want. However, we are focusing this week on putting on the best performance we can. We will put all of our energy into this," Kaino said.
There were improvements needed by the All Blacks at the breakdown and contact areas and they were concentrating on that.
The French had played well against Ireland, but the Irish proved a little better in the final outcome.
"It was just the last 15 minutes that got away from them. So, for us, we know exactly how potent they are at the breakdown and we need to focus on what we need to do," he said.
New Zealand had found their pool opponents, Argentina, Namibia and Georgia had been physical and they finally started to express themselves against Tonga.
"We haven't been able to play the natural game that we wanted to play, but that's because the opposition have been quality. Hopefully this week we can take a step towards how we want to play," he said.
Prop Charlie Faumuina admitted it was tough not having the injured Tony Woodcock playing.
"He has taught me so much and I am sad that he's not here playing but he will do all he can to help prepare the boys for Saturday.
"He's pretty important because he's got 100-odd caps and great experience and he can pass that on to guys like me and Moods [replacement Joe Moody]. It's good to have him around," he said.