Ja­pan match de­vel­op­ment ven­ture

Matamata Chronicle - - Sport -

The All Blacks have hit Ja­pan with some firm goals in mind and the tacit un­der­stand­ing that this is no run-of-the-mill test rugby week.

Af­ter the in­ten­sity of the Rugby Cham­pi­onship and the un­known as­pect of the tacked-on Bledis­loe in Dunedin, the world’s num­ber one rugby side have touched down in Tokyo with the pres­sure very much di­alled back as they launch their an­nual end-of-year tour on a rel­a­tively low-key note.

This fix­ture – the first of­fi­cial test against the Ja­panese out­side of a World Cup – was added to the tour sched­ule for dis­tinct de­vel­op­ment rea­sons. There will be a World Cup in Ja­pan in 2019, and some fringe All Blacks will be given the chance to ex­pe­ri­ence a test week free of the pres­sure of a tra­di­tional top-tier op­po­nent.

But it’s a week not just about the new wave of tal­ent from an All Black per­spec­tive. There are also a cou­ple of old sol­diers who need to slip back into the fa­tigues ahead of more press­ing du­ties, so the pres­ence of the 120-test Richie McCaw and the 97-test Daniel Carter will add a harder edge to an oth­er­wise youth­ful lineup.

There’s cer­tainly no ex­pec­ta­tion that the All Blacks will be gen­uinely chal­lenged at Prince Chichibu Me­mo­rial Sta­dium on Satur­day. Even coach Steve Hansen is pre­pared to con­cede that.

Asked if it would be a ‘‘tragedy’’ if his team were to lose to a Ja­panese side they crushed 83-7 at the last World Cup, Hansen of­fered an hon­est insight into the men­tal­ity for the week.

‘‘ That would be putting mildly,’’ he said with a smile.


‘‘That’s no dis­re­spect to Ja­pan, but we’re ex­pect­ing to win the game and play re­ally well. But they’ll also have an at­ti­tude they want to play well and com­pete, and we saw in the World Cup they put France un­der a lot of pres­sure for a long time, so it’s not just a mat­ter of turn­ing up.

‘‘We have to re­spect the op­po­si­tion and also put a lot of time into us, how we pre­pare and do it in a gen­uine fash­ion. If you take your foot off the pedal you fall off the bike and graze your knee, and we don’t want to do that.’’

Hansen, of course, is right with his home­spun wis­dom. The All Blacks should win com­fort­ably, but they’ve also got to be pro­fes­sional about their prepa­ra­tion to en­sure stan­dards re­main high.

It’s about get­ting guys like Steven Lu­atua, Fran­cis Saili, Frank Halai and Charles Pi­u­tau another week in the black jersey, and another ex­pe­ri­ence to bank away. But it’s also about con­tin­u­ing to de­velop their game among a group get­ting deeper seem­ingly by the day.

Af­ter Satur­day the road gets steeper quickly, with France in Paris, Eng­land at Twick­en­ham and then the year’s fi­nale against the Ir­ish at the Aviva Sta­dium.

There’s al­ready been plenty of talk about the re­venge match against the English who have been the only team to de­feat the All Blacks since Steve Hansen took charge in 2012. Many see it as the defin­ing con­test of this tour – in­deed of the year. Not Hansen, at this stage. ‘‘I’ve heard a lot of peo­ple talk about Eng­land, but we’ve got to play Ja­pan, then France, and they’re not a bad side,’’ said the All Blacks coach.

‘‘ Eng­land aren’t even on my mind at the mo­ment. I get a bit frus­trated hear­ing about Eng­land – we’ll deal with them in Eng­land week.’’

First up will be a Ja­panese team with a style Hansen says presents chal­lenges.

‘‘It is fast, and we’ve got to be care­ful we don’t get caught up play­ing a hel­ter-skel­ter game that hasn’t got con­trol in it and hasn’t got the phys­i­cal in­ten­sity we need to put on them.

‘‘There has to be a phys­i­cal com­po­nent, we have to do our core roles re­ally well, and play the game we want to play rather than the harum-scarum stuff.’’

It’s a short and dif­fer­ent week for the 27 All Blacks in Tokyo, but it should be a pro­duc­tive one.

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