Fears have been expressed that the superbly conditioned top-ranked nation in the world could really hurt the amateurs from Portugal, and not just on the scoreboard.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry is aware of the danger.
“If we have dominance at scrum time – and hopefully we will – we don’t want to kill people, if you understand my logic,” said Henry, in announcing what is a forward-dominated 22.
“We’ll need to be sensitive about big scrum dominance, how we handle that, and make sure we look after opposition props to some extent.’’
In interviews with two of those starting forwards, however, blind-side forward Chris Masoe and hooker Andrew Hore, a slightly different message is coming across.
No mercy? “Something like that,” said the rampaging Masoe, who weighs in at 16st 9lbs and also offers cover for the second-row.
“I only worry about myself getting injured to be honest,” said Hore, in response to whether they would “try not to hurt the Portuguese”
He continued: “I’m not too worried about others. If you go out there thinking you can take it easy, that’s when you do get in trouble. Their scrum worked well at the weekend from what I saw. They worked hard, are competitive and have some good props.”
Masoe believes that the Portuguese will offer a real contest. Asked if he was concerned about the physical disparity between the teams, he claimed: “Yeah, I’ve seen them, some of them are quite huge, they’re big guys. Definitely they’ll bring their physicality to us.”
Hang on a minute Chris — the Portuguese are, in fact, the lightest team on average in the competition. He smiles: “Oh, didn’t know that, thanks – now I know!”
Despite all the talk, all the fears, there is good reason for the All Blacks to be cautious. The so-called minnows of this competition have all, so far, expressed themselves honourably, Namibia and Georgia have both shown, in Ireland’s group, that they are capable of fronting up to any of the established rugby nations, the USA, Canada and Samoa have done likewise in their groups.
Chris Masoe and Andrew Hore have been following events, they know the danger of taking such opposition lightly. Just as significantly, they also believe there are still places up for grabs in what will eventually be Henry’s top 22.
On the basis of those chosen for New Zealand’s World Cup opener, their big win over Italy, Masoe is already well within that frame.
Hore, however, would appear to be behind both Mealamu (named on the bench Saturday, but actually covering the backrow) and Anton Oliver.
He is determined to leapfrog at least one of that pair, if not both and believes that the opportunity is still there for him.
“For sure. Everyone here wants to play every minute you can, with the All-Blacks. Everyone wants to be starting, everyone here backs themselves to be on the starting team.”
Any tension yet among the players, those fighting to make an impression especially?
“No. There’s competition, but everyone gets on well also. If you’re not on the starting team you help those who are.
“There might be a bit of tension if we’re lucky enough to get to the semi-finals, but at the moment it’s rolling along pretty well.”
The problem for the likes of Andrew, however, and for the new half-back combination of Brendon Leonard and Nick Evans, for the others trying to break into Henry’s top 22, is that they are in a no-win situation Saturday.
If they struggle against the Portuguese, then they make the wrong impression; if they trounce them, well, it was only to be expected, wasn’t it?
In those circumstances, how do you actually impress?
“I suppose it comes down to just doing your own job,” says Hore.
‘‘We’ve got to prepare the same for every team, every week, no matter who we’re playing.
It doesn’t matter if it’s England, Scotland, France or Portugal, we’ve still got to prepare right.”