Time is running out for All Black hopefuls

The fear of being left out of the All Black Rugby World Cup squad instead of maintaining an unbeaten record against Argentina is turning out to be the driving force in the All Blacks camp.

New Zealand’s All Blacks open their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina who they have never lost to but planning for the Rugby World cup is front of mind.

The reigning world champions were way below their best when they scraped home 16-25 against Samoa last week in Apia and they have only four Tests remaining before coach Steve Hansen wields the axe and lops off nearly 25 percent of the squad.

When they wrapped up the traditional “captain’s run” on the eve of the Test against Argentina in Christchurch, skipper Richie McCaw said the team were aware a rapid improvement was needed.

“I didn’t need to say too much because most of the boys who are out there realise that standard (against Samoa) going forward isn’t going to be good enough,” he said.

“But you can’t get yourself too much in a hole over it. There’s probably some reasons for it but the key is to get some learnings out of it and make sure that the things we got wrong we don’t (repeat) this week… The expectation is we improve.”

Hansen said players were “probably too mindful” that the August 31 deadline to settle the World Cup squad was fast approaching.

“Whether you have been here five minutes or whether you have been here for a long time, of course they get anxious just like everyone else,” Hansen said.

“There is a lot of talent in this group at the moment. There are 41 players and everyone knows we can only take 31 to the World Cup so there’s a little bit of edge there and that’s not a bad thing.

“It is about learning to cope with that and control it. And at the same time operate within that because that is what we are going to face right throughout the World Cup.”

Reducing the handling errors and gaining domination up front were areas to focus on against Argentina.

“The heart of their team is getting their set-piece right and they are big men. The last couple of years it has been a big challenge for the men up front so there’s a wee bit of an edge there from our lads,” McCaw said.

The All Blacks have never lost in 20 Tests against Argentina, winning 19 and being held to a 21-all draw in 1985.

Although the South Americans achieved a first-ever win in the Rugby Championship last year, when they beat Australia 21-17, Pumas captain Agustin Creevy dismissed suggestions of weakness in the All Blacks from the way they played against Samoa.

“No weakness,” the Worcester Warriors hooker said. “But we know that we are getting closer to them and we are learning about playing against them and, one time, the possibility of winning will come.”

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