The Post

He’s not worried . . . but he is

‘Sometimes when you get in those big occasions like this and you are at the game you wanted to be in, it’s easy to let the emotion and everything take over and miss some detail.’

- Toby

AT THE WORLD CUP ONE thing the All Blacks won’t do this week is be sucked into the suffocatin­g analysis of their Cardiff quarterfin­al replay against supposed bogey team France.

They saw this bullet coming when the World Cup draw was released – the ghosts of 2007, the semifinal melt down in 1999, France’s thirst for revenge after the 2011 final.

The predictabl­e questions came thick and fast yesterday in the Swansea University pavilion next to the All Blacks training ground and the response was telling.

Sonny Bill Williams smiled his way through the 15 minute question-and-answer. At one point he cut in when assistant coach Ian Foster was asked about the fitness of skipper Richie McCaw.

‘‘Richie’s out,’’ Williams said with the cheek of a schoolboy.

‘‘You can tell he’s getting mischievou­s,’’ Foster replied before saying McCaw (bruised hip) and prop Charlie Faumuina (hamstring) had both trained fully.

First-five Dan Carter was in similarly relaxed mood, revelling in an account of McCaw’s deficienci­es as a tee boy during the last pool match against Tonga.

New Zealand fans may be in a lather over the threat of France and the ghost of test match past, but Steve Hansen is not Ebenezer Scrooge and his players are not anxious schoolboys.

The All Blacks coach and his senior players learned valuable lessons eight years ago and more again in 2011. They have long since changed their ways when it comes to dealing with pressure.

Worry, Hansen said before the squad left New Zealand, was a wasted emotion. The All Blacks are physically less drained than most of their rivals and they packed similarly light emotional baggage when they departed for the World Cup.

The traditiona­l fear of losing has been replaced by the motto of ‘‘walking toward the pressure’’ and the players plan to embrace a match that for some could be their last in an All Blacks jersey.

‘‘Sometimes when you get in those big occasions like this and you are at the game you wanted to be in, it’s easy to let the emotion and everything take over and miss some detail,’’ Foster said. ‘‘We’re working hard, not to suppress it, but to control the feelings of excitement and drive it through a process we trust.’’

There’s little doubt the defending champions haven’t hit their straps during pool play. There have been patches of brilliance, but not even the beginnings of a quilt. Questions about their form have been legitimate.

But the All Blacks coaches are banking on a packed Millennium Stadium and the spectre of being knocked out of the tournament being enough to focus their players’ hitherto inconsiste­nt execution on match day.

Excited? Yes. Nervous? Apparently not in the way they were before the 2011 final against France when they nearly froze in the moment before escaping with an 8-7 win.

‘‘These are great weeks,’’ Foster said. ‘‘We feed off each other as a group. We are chasing clarity and detail in our game, but at the same time you look ahead to Saturday and say, ‘we’ve talked about this one for a long time and it’s great that it’s finally here’.’’

Carter spoke about the concerted effort he’s made to enjoy the final year of his test career after two frustratin­g years battling injuries. A week ago he looked as composed and confident as he has for years as he joked with his waterboy McCaw at St James’ Park, took the ball to the line and nailed his goal kicks.

Young wing Nehe was another to MilnerSkud­der revel in the occasion as he played without fear on the right wing.

Two members of the All Blacks management went to the FranceIrel­and match and soaked up an incredible atmosphere. Later this week they and senior players will talk to the squad about what to expect on match day.

A natural edge will develop as kickoff approaches. If the week goes to plan, the All Blacks will neither get ahead of themselves as they did in 2007, nor freeze as they did in 2011.

And if any of the younger players ask what all the fuss is about, perhaps they will be reminded the All Blacks’ World Cup record against France stands at won six, lost two. Which would all be cause for great comfort for their fans if not for an opponent and a venue that will make them more nervous by the day.

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