New Zealand Keen to Fix the Basics in Second Rugby World Cup Match

AP Photo/Lewis Joly
New Zealand’s Finlay Christie feeds the ball into a scrum during the Rugby World Cup Pool A match between France and New Zealand at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023.

TOULOUSE, France (AP) — New Zealand should rack up a pile of points against Namibia on Friday in the Rugby World Cup.

It has more important needs, though.

New Zealand’s set-piece has been unsteady in its last two matches — both historic defeats to France and South Africa — and coach Ian Foster wants his side to start fixing its foundations.

The All Blacks are traditionally quick to repair issues, so after the record-sized thrashing from South Africa last month, they were expected to make a statement against France in the World Cup opening match in Paris last Friday. But the same issues persisted, and New Zealand lost a pool game for the first time in tournament history.

It has three more pool games — Namibia, Italy, Uruguay — to get its mojo back in time for an expected quarterfinal against probably South Africa or Ireland.

We still want to play (an attacking game) but we also know in those big games that you’ve got to get some basics right, Foster said.

NEW ZEALAND vs NAMIBIA (New Zealand 2-0 overall, 2-0 in RWC)

The scrum against France conceded two penalties and a free kick. One throw-in was lost. From their kick-chase, the All Blacks retained only five of their 17 attacking kicks, and conceded two more penalties.

They gave away 12 penalties in all, and France goalkicked five of them. France conceded only four penalties.

You’ve got to get your set-piece right, Foster said. “If you start to creak there or you misinterpret what the refs want, then that generates pressure. That was one of the big lessons in that France game.”

The All Blacks have made 10 changes but are also taking the game seriously by picking their best four available props and their two best locks: Sam Whitelock, who will tie Richie McCaw’s New Zealand caps record of 148, and Brodie Retallick will extend their world record second-row partnership to 66 tests.

New Zealand is also under pressure to play hard for 80 minutes after fading against France.

Namibia won’t be expected to last 80. Its conditioning faded against Italy and gave up three tries in the last 10 minutes last weekend.

The pragmatic Namibians also want to get their set-piece right. Italy was stronger in the maul and scrum and made it count. To them, any improvement will help toward their main goal — beating Uruguay at the end of the month and ending their 14-year World Cup losing run.

Namibia has eight survivors from the 2019 match that was lost 71-9 in Tokyo, and lock Johan Retief said that experience will make a difference.

I remember (2019), the whole team was stressed, Retief said. “This time a lot of players have played already against them so it’s more comfortable, more relaxed. We know what we are going to face.”