New Zealand may have started with two successive victories at the Rugby World Cup, but the defending champions are seeking improvements when they take on Georgia at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Friday. After beating Argentina 26-16 in their opener, the All Blacks breezed past minnows Namibia, 58-14, last Thursday.
The performances, though, have not quite been at the level expected of a team that has led the World Rugby Rankings for the past six years and are strong favorites to become the first country ever to retain the World Cup trophy. And, while a place at the top of Pool C should be a formality, captain Richie McCaw is one of those far from content at how the team has played so far in England.
“Performance-wise we need to take a step up and this is the time to do that,” he said ahead of the match with Georgia, reports the New Zealand Herald. “We've all had a run in the first two games so there's no excuses for not being ready to go. There has been a bit of an edge this week.
“When you haven't played for a while there's always a bit of rustiness. I don't want to use that as an excuse but just those little things are what let you down. Against Namibia last week the guys were trying hard but were making some crucial mistakes that, going forward, we can't afford to let happen.”
Having made 12 changes for the clash with Namibia, coach Steve Hansen has named 10 alterations to take on Georgia. New Zealand will finish Pool C by going up against a Tonga team currently sitting in second place, next Friday. From there the real business is set to begin when a meeting with Ireland or a repeat of the 2011 final is likely to await in the quarterfinals.
First, though, comes a first ever match against Georgia. Ranked 15th in the world, Georgia are in their fourth consecutive World Cup, but have never made it beyond the Pool stage. After a heavy 54-9 defeat to Argentina, they have little chance of making that breakthrough this time around. Yet there is still much to play for. The third-placed finishes in each Pool will gain automatic qualification for the next Rugby World Cup in Japan in four years’ time.
And coach Milton Haig had admitted that attempting to secure third place with a win over Namibia in their final match takes precedent over maximizing their chances of upsetting the All Blacks.
“We've made several changes to the starting line-up, purely because for the first and second game we used the same players, so these guys are fresh," he said, according to Sky Sports. “They haven't played any time, or very little time, at the World Cup and we are looking for a bit of energy against the All Blacks.
"We think with the depth that we've got in the squad, it's a good chance for these players. We had a plan a year ago in terms of selecting this squad and what our ultimate goal is at this tournament, and Namibia is very important to achieve that goal of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup, so it's a necessary evil that our focus is on the Namibia game.”
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