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A possible letdown spot: Can the All Blacks overcome the dreaded complacency shadow against Argentina?

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Roar Guru
16th October, 2023
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1865 Reads

It was an epic win by New Zealand overcoming another World Cup favourite in Ireland to set up a semifinal against Argentina – but I cannot help but be a little bit worried.

To many, it is a case of an ‘easier’ opponent after the great mountain climbed against Ireland, and therefore it should be an all-downhill walk in the park. But I wonder if it will turn out to be a greater mental challenge. Will the All Blacks be able to rise to the occasion again?

In some ways, it would have been better to be playing another heavy-weight opponent to ensure they rise again mentally. The All Blacks must trick their minds into believing they are up against the greatest opposition in the world to win on Saturday.

I hope I am not sounding terribly arrogant. I mean no disrespect to Argentina as they are an exceptional team, and their spot in the semis is deserved – but in private if you had asked the All Blacks at the start of the tournament who they would rather not play in the final four, France or Argentina, perhaps the former would be chosen.

I have found myself saying to people that the All Blacks should beat Argentina and advance to the final of the Rugby World Cup. Maybe that is correct, and they will do it with ease – but it is a dangerous place to go with overconfidence leading to failure.

We have seen it countless times in international sport, the monumental effort to ‘must-win’ followed by a shock loss – even by the All Blacks themselves.

Last year, the victory over the Springboks at Ellis Park in South Africa led to New Zealand Rugby coming out to confirm Ian Foster’s job as World Cup coach. But in their homecoming match two weeks later, came the banana-skin game and the heavy favourites suffered a shock loss to – you guessed it – The Pumas.

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“They played their ‘final’ the week before” is often the common call when a loss occurs. There are many questions surrounding how the Kiwis will overcome this mental hurdle in preparation for the big game.

I believe they have to focus internally on how they play, not who they are playing. Will the kicking game used against Ireland be repeated for Argentina or do they go for a more possession-led running game? Will they name an unchanged side with Leicester Fainga’anuku retaining his spot ahead of Mark Telea? Can an unchanged side be up for the challenge of potentially winning three tough encounters or do you freshen the side up?

Of course, it is one match at a time and if the All Blacks are leading with a healthy margin then the bench could be emptied with players like Damian McKenzie coming on. (There is that overconfidence again! I must stop that, my apologies to Argentinian readers.)

Rieko Ioane of the All Blacks (C) looks for a gap during the International Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and Ireland at Sky Stadium on July 16, 2022 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Rieko Ioane in the RWC quarterfinal against Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

We will not know how much physical and mental energy was taken out of the All Blacks during the Irish match until Saturday morning at fulltime, when the result will be known.

It would be tremendous for the game in Argentina if that were to happen and emotions would pour onto the streets of Argentina. If they were to win the RWC it would mean they hold both rugby and football World Cups, I am not sure how many other teams have that potential.

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I believe there is too much to squander for the All Blacks to lose this one as the past two years have galvanised the group into believing they can win this World Cup; a difficult period under Ian Foster can be forgotten with victory on Saturday. As long as they overcome the same presumed subconscious overconfidence I too am feeling.

Fozzie has copped a lot of flak from many, including myself, but you get the feeling that internally the players respect and like him and will see him out with a semi-final win in his last hurrah.

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