New Zealand boss Ian Foster has warned his players “not to get softened” by the acclaim which followed their thrilling World Cup win over Ireland ahead of a semi-final showdown with Argentina.
The All Blacks return to Stade de France on Friday evening and are red-hot favourites to progress to a final against either England or reigning champions South Africa.
Head coach Foster feels “being patted on the back” following a statement last-eight victory over the Irish derailed the Kiwis in the 2019 tournament and he’s eager to avoid history repeating itself.
“The best way to recover is to refocus really quickly on what the next challenge is and not to listen too much to any praise you’re given as a group for a performance,” said Foster, who was assistant to Steve Hansen four years ago when New Zealand lost to England in the semi-finals.
“Not to go down that path, not to get softened because everyone’s patting you on the back saying you played well.
“That’s not a good place to be as a team.
“I love the way the team has buckled down. We’ve redefined the challenge for us as a group, we’re not satisfied with where we are now and when you’re clear about your goal for the week the recovery comes along pretty quickly.
“You know that if we’re not right on Friday night at Stade de France, it’s going to be a sad old night – and we don’t want it to be like that.
“In 2019 we probably didn’t stop being patted on the back after the quarter-final, hence some of my language today and we’re just trying to dial this back, keep things simple and let’s just worry about Friday.”
Of Mark Telea’s return to the starting XV after missing last weekend’s match for disciplinary reasons, Foster said: “Mark’s done his time. He made a mistake, he accepted what was happening.
“But you don’t linger in that space. He’s been our form winger through this tournament and we really have a lot of faith in him and believe he’s in a good place to play this game.”
Underdogs Argentina have won two of the past seven meetings between the nations, including a landmark first success on New Zealand soil – 25-18 in Christchurch – in last year’s Rugby Championship.
Foster is braced for a “heck of a game”.
“You’ve never heard us say we’re favourites,” he said. “We know that these games are do-or-die.
“They are perhaps an underrated team worldwide that has got a really rich history of perhaps overachieving at World Cups.
“They have done a fantastic job to get here at the same level as we are. It’s going to be a heck of a game.”