DUBAI // World champions in XVs. World Series champions in the abbreviated format. Commonwealth Games gold medallists every time the tournament has been staged. World Cup winners in men’s and women’s sevens. And the All Blacks have just completed a flawless year.
Where to from here? You cannot exactly improve on perfection. The burden of such exacting standards must weigh heavily on any player representing New Zealand.
“It comes with the black jersey: you pull that on and there is expectation,” said Sean Horan, the coach of the New Zealand women’s team pursuing success here this weekend.
“As with the guys, it is an unwritten rule. The All Blacks don’t talk about it too much; they just take care of the performance and we are probably quite similar.
“We walk towards it, embrace it and understand it. Even though we have only really been running for 18 months, we are still part of the New Zealand rugby family and that brings responsibility.”
As if they were not already aware of the standards expected of them, New Zealand’s women were presented with their jerseys by the full All Blacks on Wednesday.
Steve Hansen’s team are passing through en route home from their triumphant northern hemisphere tour, which concluded with an injury-time win over Ireland on Sunday.
They conducted a training session with the juniors at Dubai Exiles on Tuesday evening as part of an agreement with their shared sponsors AIG.
The All Blacks then met with the Exiles senior players at The Shack on Kite Beach in Jumeirah early yesterday morning.
Horan says his players are motivated rather than cowed by the feats of their compatriots.
“It gives you the self belief,” he said. “From a small nation, rugby is our national game and we are very aware of that.
“There are four and a half million Kiwis and if one of them is riding a horse we all want them to win.
“We are pretty tight as a rugby family and a New Zealand family. We understand we won the World Series and the World Cup and we are aware of what everybody else is doing, but we are just focused on what we believe in and in our programme.”
DJ Forbes, captain of the New Zealand men’s side, said his side were inspired by the nature of the victories of both their senior union and league colleagues. Each side won with final-play conversions last weekend.
“Watching those two games was like watching sevens – we have that type of thriller endings every time you play,” Forbes said.
“It was great to see the boys knuckle down and pull through in the end. Hopefully, we can use that as motivation and if it gets to that stage we can pull through, as well.”
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