Holders New Zealand will expect to continue their progress to the knockout stage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup when taking on minnows Namibia at London’s Olympic Stadium on Thursday. The All Blacks began their attempt to become the first team ever to retain the trophy when beating Argentina 26-16 on Sunday. The contest was on paper by far their toughest in a Pool C that also includes Tonga, Georgia, as well as Namibia.
Their next opponents are, at 20th, ranked the lowest of any team competing in this World Cup. And they have yet to win a single game in four previous appearances at the competition. Yet New Zealand coach Steve Hansen insists his side will be taking their opponents seriously and working on building on a display against Argentina that saw them leading by just a single point at the halftime.
“Each team has to prepare in its own way,” he said, according to the New Zealand Herald. “One of the things we pride ourselves on is trying to improve our performance from the previous one. We put a line in the sand as far as the World Cup goes against Argentina and the group going out on Thursday have to change that line to a higher performance level. We'll give Namibia total respect because that's what they deserve as another playing nation.”
“It is difficult when you're playing different opposition I guess - if the quality of the opposition isn't equal then it becomes very difficult. But we can't just assume that Namibia are going to lie down because they won't.”
Despite those comments, Hansen has elected to make 11 changes to the lineup that beat Argentina. Only Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder keep their places. Flanker Sam Cane will captain he side in the absence of Richie McCaw, who will be one of three substitutes with over 100 caps to their name, a record in a Rugby World Cup match.
It remains a daunting challenge for a Namibia side that will be making their debut in this year’s competition. In the 2011 edition they conceded 222 points in their four matches, including 80-plus against both Wales and South Africa. Yet fly-half Theuns Kotze is keen for his team to show what he believes has been considerable progress in the intervening four years
“At the 2011 World Cup we turned up just to participate,” he said, according to the tournament’s official website. “But in the last four years and especially the last four months, Namibian rugby has grown a hell of a lot. We didn’t come here to participate and we will use every match to gain momentum. We are looking for our first win in a Rugby World Cup and this is the first time we have come here to challenge ourselves.”
Coached by former Wales international Phil Davies, Namibia will surely a need a big performance from captain Jacques Burger if they are to defy odds makers who make them 77-point underdogs going up against the All Blacks. The Saracens loose forward is one of the few full-time professionals in the Namibia team and will be playing in his third World Cup.
Kickoff time: 3 p.m. EDT
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