All Blacks in knock-out mode

‘Portrush is like playing at home’ says Jon Rahm

Defending world champions New Zealand have stepped up their preparations ahead of Saturday's quarter-final against France.

The rematch of the 2011 Final won by the All Blacks, and the 2007 quarter-final upset by France at the same venue in Cardiff, is arguably the pick of the this weekend's four games. 

Vice-captain Kieran Read insisted however that the 2011 Final had no relevence to this weekend's clash. 

"I don't think there are any parallels. This is about two different teams," said Read.  

"They are a great side and they put some pressure on a pretty good Ireland team and they have some great players. It's two good teams going at it which will be very exciting."

"There are things you can take out of past experiences, most Test matches for us over the last four years have taught us a lot."

"We have been able to get out of a few situations. Certainly a play-off game heightens the pressure and expectation.

"It's a great place and it's where we want to be. We are essentially heading into a final. It's a one-off game and if you don't perform you go home," added Read. 

"It certainly heightens awareness and intention. It's what we like in this group and the excitement has certainly risen.

"We are lucky in terms of the level of support from back home. There have been a lot of messages coming through and we really appreciate that. In 2011 it was great to be at home, but this is a different feeling."

Read said his team were prepaed for France's infamous unpredictability.

"I think they will come with a blend. They have very strong forwards, who are really strong around the breakdown area," he noted. 

"They will come hard at us there, but they have got some flair in their backline and some pretty classy midfielders. So, I am sure they will mix it up."

"You've got to prepare for the old French flair. We are preparing for the top French team to turn up this weekend and I am sure that's what we are going to get.

"They have been playing some pretty good rugby throughout this World Cup and they have some pretty good leaders. Here we have two teams that are very passionate about World Cup rugby and it's going to be one hell of a battle."

Fellow back-row Jerome Kaino said the team were raring to go.

"We have had a couple of days indoors looking at the opposition and it was good to get on the pitch and start putting things together," explained Kaino. 

"We are slowly building and we made a step in the right direction against Tonga. This is our final and we are going to treat it like that. Everyone is going to put all their energy into the game."

Kaino poued cold water on suggestions that the All Blacks need a challenge to reach their best.

"I don't think so. We have got enough leaders and a lot of experience in the group to set our standards regardless of who we are playing against," he said. 

"We are excited about this week and we know that if we don't perform we go home. That's enough of a challenge for us to bring out the best in everyone."

"We have been challenged by all of the teams we have played and that has prevented us from putting in the performances that we want. However, we are focusing this week on putting on the best performance we can. We will put all of our energy into this.

"We have areas that we want to work on around the breakdown and contact area and we want to focus on that. In terms of the French I thought they played really well. It was just that the Irish played that little bit better."

"It was just the last 15 minutes that got away from them (France). So, for us, we know exactly how potent they are at the breakdown and we need to focus on what we need to do.

"We have been slowly building over the last few weeks against some physical teams like Namibia, Georgia and Argentina and when it finally came to the Tongan game I think we were able to express ourselves."

"We haven't been able to play the natural game that we wanted to play, but that's because the opposition have been quality. Hopefully this week we can take a step towards how we want to play."