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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