By Mitch Phillips
New Zealand’s players and management know just how the tension of a World Cup final can put paid to the best-laid plans and, having almost succumbed four years ago, they do not intend to allow a repeat on Saturday.
In 2011, the All Blacks went into their own tournament desperate to end 24 years of pain and frustration and when they got to the final against a French team they had already beaten in the pool stage, and who also lost to Tonga, the expectation of victory was absolute.
That suffocating pressure clearly took its toll, though, as they spent the final 30 minutes desperately clinging to an 8-7 lead, the whole side seemingly paralysed into doing nothing but tackle and praying for the final whistle.
Four years on the pressure is less intense. With seven survivors from that side in the starting team and another three on the bench who were involved on the day, plus Steve Hansen as head coach having previously been assistant to Graham Henry, the current crop are hopeful they will not again freeze in the headlights.
“Four years ago we wanted to move the ball but as the pressure came on we got tight,” captain Richie McCaw told reporters on Thursday.
“Maybe the 50-50s went out the window and we opted for the 100 percent decisions.
“But really the only thing you take out being in a final before is knowing how deep you have to dig to get across the line.
“For us in 2011 and for most teams who have won they’ve had to dig deep – it’s not about doing anything magical, it’s about getting the basic things right.
“It will be nice if it all goes our way. We have a game plan that’s about making space and scoring tries, but I don’t really care what sort of game it is as long as we win.”
Number eight Kieran Read, who is set to take over the captaincy after McCaw’s probable post-tournament retirement, said there were definitely lessons to be learned.
“You look back and pick up things, we have to be prepared to start the game well,” he said.
“It’s an all or nothing game and perhaps you go within yourself because of the pressure, so we need to play the type of rugby we want to, which is the All Black brand.”
Jerome Kaino completes a clean sweep of the back row appearing in successive finals and said his main lesson from four years ago was that the final is a “one-off.”
“If you look at the history between these two teams on Saturday it’s always been close battles,” he said.
“We saw in 2011 how the French lifted. The Australians are going to lift 10-fold so we need to do the same.”