Paris: New Zealand have reset from their thrilling win over Ireland to prepare for Friday’s World Cup semi-final against Argentina with the pain of losing four years ago at the same stage “a big driver”.
“That feeling helped us reset after what was an emotional game against Ireland and everything on the line last week,” said All Blacks scrum-half Aaron Smith.
“That’s been the big lesson for us, taking the positives, acknowledging the step we took.
“And how much that cost on the body, physically and emotionally, and rebuilding and finding the edge for what is another huge game for us and an opportunity for us to push forward in this comp which is our ultimate dream.”
New Zealand edged Ireland, the then-world No 1 team, 28-24 in a pulsating quarter-final last weekend, while Argentina beat Wales 29-17.
“That was the most proud All Blacks performance I’ve been part of,” said Smith, a member of the New Zealand team that lost to England in the 2019 semi-finals.
“The build-up, the emotion, the game, the spectacle itself. It felt like that game went on for two days, that second half felt like forever. But it was so much fun and intensity and two teams just not giving up.”
Smith added: “We are lucky enough to have another opportunity this weekend and we want to be better than we were last week.”
Argentina went down 27-10 to 14-man England in their opening pool match, but have steadily improved as the tournament has advanced.
But their Australian coach Michael Cheika, who led the Wallabies to the World Cup final in 2015, was in no doubt about what lay ahead at the Stade de France.
“New Zealand have been playing for many years, they are the No 1 team in world rugby. We know the challenge they represent,” he said.
“We know the challenges are getting harder and harder. The history is not in our favour but it is up to us to change that. We have a chance to on Friday and we will be ready. When we arrive on the field we will do what we do best.
“In a World Cup semi-final they are dangerous everywhere. The contest in the lineout and the scrums, that is where the greatest challenges will lie. We have been training as best we can, we will be ready. We will see what happens.”
Cheika made just the one change to the starting XV from the one that surprised Wales in the quarters.
The 56-year-old selected Gonzalo Bertranou at scrum-half at the expense of Tomas Cubelli, who drops out of the 23 altogether.
It was a similar story for New Zealand coach Ian Foster, who made two changes and one positional switch to his team, including recalling winger Mark Tele’a.
In-form Tele’a was dropped for the Ireland quarter after breaking team protocol, but makes his return at the expense of Leicester Fainga’anuku, who drops out of the match-day 23 in what Foster called a “tough selection”.
“He’s been our form winger. We have got a faith in him and think he is in good place to play this game,” Foster said of Tele’a.
History is indeed on New Zealand’s side, the All Blacks having won 33 of 36 encounters between the two sides, Los Pumas claiming two victories, with one match drawn.
The All Blacks’ last loss to the South Americans, 25-18, came last year in Christchurch, having first tasted defeat in the 2020 Tri-Nations in Sydney.
Their three meetings at the World Cup, however, have seen New Zealand win each time with an average winning margin of 21 points, meaning Argentina will have to pull out all stops come Friday.
“Argentina have a rich history of overachieving at the World Cup and have done a fantastic job to get here at the same level we are, so it is going to be a heck of a game,” said Foster.