Thursday 17 October 2019

All Blacks and Springboks ratchet up mind games ahead of crunch World Cup showdown

New Zealand's head coach Steve Hansen watches a training session at the Tatsuminomori Seaside Park in Koto, Tokyo
New Zealand's head coach Steve Hansen watches a training session at the Tatsuminomori Seaside Park in Koto, Tokyo
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

The mind games in the first week of the World Cup are in full flow.

First there was Joe Schmidt and his attempts to get inside Gregor Townsend's head by predicting Scotland's team for Sunday's opener.

Then there was this morning's message from the IRFU playing down the concerns surrounding Rob Kearney and while the full-back may indeed recover from a calf injury in time to feature, he is very much in a race to be fit.

Later in the afternoon back in Tokyo, South Africa assistant coach Matt Proudfoot suggested that New Zealand could perhaps be trying to pull the wool over their eyes and unleash Brodie Retallick for their mouthwatering encounter on Saturday.

The All Blacks and Springboks will lock horns at the International Stadium in Yokohama the day before Ireland begin their campaign at the same venue.

Retallick, who is widely regarded as the best lock in the world, has been struggling with a shoulder problem and is not expected to feature until later in the tournament.

Proudfoot however, doubted that would be the case.

“Are you sure he's not playing,” he said, responding to a reporter's question.

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"Steve Hansen said they had a full squad to pick from, that was his last press release so I wouldn't be surprised if they have a little trick up their sleeve."

News of Proudfoot's comments quickly reached the All Blacks base across the city where their assistant coach Ian Foster was just settling down for his own media duties.

"I do not know why Matthew would think that," Foster said.

"He's (Retallick) quite hard to hide from you guys, a six-foot-five monster. We haven't been sneaking him into training or anything like that. He is progressing really strongly but I'm pretty sure he won't be there on Saturday."

Foster is one of the leading contenders to replace Steve Hansen as head coach when he steps down following the World Cup, but he would not be drawn on his future.

Instead he pointed to the next few weeks as all he was concerned about, starting this Saturday as the champions look to get their title defence off to a winning start.

“I know it's the World Cup, but I guess our focus has been on this game for a while,” Foster added.

“Once we get there and closer to the occasion, we hear more about the World Cup.

“We know how important it is but ultimately our goal is to focus on the opposition that we are playing. We are hugely excited about it and like I said, there is no better game for us to start than this one because we will know exactly where we are at.

“You want to get your performance right. We want to go kick this tournament off at a level that we can put a marker down and say 'That's where we are at.' For our own information more than anything.”

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