Canada do not expect to end up goggle-eyed here on Wednesday evening despite being the lowest-ranked-but-one team in the tournament up against the side at the top and winners of the last two World Cups, New Zealand.
The holders have fielded a strong side despite the outcome being as close to a foregone conclusion as is possible in a two-horse race, led by Kieran Read and boasting Richie Mo’unga and Beauden Barrett behind as the All Blacks look to build on their opening-round victory over South Africa, which all but guaranteed they would top the pool.
“They are clearly skilled, but I have seen some of these guys run fitness tests so I know their fitness isn’t necessarily going to be much better than ours,” said the Canada second row Evan Olmstead. “I’ve seen them make mistakes and I have seen them do great things so it will be a special occasion for us.
“Japan’s victory over Ireland gives a lot of guys confidence. We were on the bus back from training when the game was being played and we were streaming it on our phones. I never doubt myself. I always go on the field wanting to win and do not accept anything less. Seeing teams that are not rated as highly beat the big guys gives me belief.”
Canada will need belief and more. They have played New Zealand five times in full internationals and the average score is 61-11 against them. “We understand what we are facing,” said the Canada head coach, Kingsley Jones, “but we look forward to it with excitement. We want to come out of the match with respect, which means sticking to the task and putting in a performance for 80 minutes.”
The New Zealand flanker Ardie Savea will be making World Cup history by playing in World Rugby-approved goggles – as previously worn elsewhere by the likes of Ian McKinley – after having problems with the sight in one eye. “It is purely for protection,” said the New Zealand attack coach, Ian Foster. “When a player says that the problem in his eye is getting worse, you have to do something. He has been dealing with it for a few years and our medical team came up with this idea.”
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Pool A: Ireland, Japan, Russia, Samoa, Scotland
Pool B: Canada, Italy, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa
Pool C: Argentina, England, France, Tonga, USA
Pool D: Australia, Fiji, Georgia, Uruguay, Wales
Canada are 22nd in the rankings, a fraction above Namibia, New Zealand’s opponents on Sunday. The All Blacks final group match is against Italy, a side they have scored 176 points against in their last three trips to Rome. The concern is that they go into the quarter-finals underexposed, which is why there will be no respite for Canada here.
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