All Blacks coach says Springboks’ praise hides true feelings

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LONDON (AP) Steve Hansen is on to Heyneke Meyer.

Meyer described Hansen’s All Blacks this week as “probably the best team that’s ever played the game,” and his Springboks will have to produce their “best performance ever” to prevail in the Rugby World Cup semifinal at Twickenham on Saturday.

Hansen, the New Zealand coach, appreciated the compliments of his friend and South Africa counterpart, but he knew what Meyer was really up to.

“He’s a cunning, wee devil is H,” Hansen said on Thursday. “He’s just about killed us with kindness. He’s been praising us all week, and whilst I know he means some of it, at the same time I know they’re getting ready to rip our heads off.

“We need to get in that same state. If we get caught lapping up all the praise, then we won’t be in the right mental state to play.”

Hansen said it has been challenging to prepare his team after they demolished France in the quarterfinals by 62-13, the highest ever score in the knockout stage. The defending champion All Blacks underwhelmed in the pool stage, then delivered a compelling performance in Cardiff last weekend that was exulted all over the world.

“Externally, everybody’s got a little carried away with themselves and made some outrageous statements,” Hansen said. “Internally, there’s an emotional high that comes with playing like that, and it’s really important to get a fullstop on it as early as possible.

“Yes, you’ve got to enjoy that moment, you can’t get away from that, but you’ve got to get a fullstop on it, otherwise you don’t go from great (performance) to great (again) – you go from great to struggling.”

Hansen said the All Blacks group has acknowledged it.

“We believe we’ve done that, and if we’ve got that right then we’ll go out and have another great performance,” he said. “Whether that’s good enough to beat South Africa, we’ll see.”

Hansen changed only the loosehead prop in his lineup for the semifinal, after Wyatt Crockett hurt his groin. Joe Moody, who replaced Crockett against France for his ninth cap, will start. Ben Franks moved into the reserves.

Moody joined the squad less than two weeks ago, as the injury replacement for Tony Woodcock, the 118-cap prop who tore his hamstring in the last group stage win over Tonga.

Hansen said there was no debate about who would play. Moody was a specialist loosehead, while Franks could cover both sides of the frontrow. Crockett should be OK next week, he said, but as a precaution the All Blacks received permission from the tournament organizers to fly over uncapped Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu. For now, he cannot train with the squad.

The only other doubt was regarding winger Nehe Milner-Skudder, who has recovered from a shoulder injury to start, and will oppose Bryan Habana.

New Zealand: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Joe Moody. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams.