for All Blacks fans defeat is never an option but going into today’s Test against South Africa ‘must win’ barely covers it.
A loss to the Springboks at Ellis Park, in Johannesburg today, would be New Zealand’s sixth defeat in their past seven matches – something that would be as close to a national catastrophe as is possible when it comes to sport and the rugby-mad nation.
Victory is a must and lock Sam Whitelock is sure he knows what he and his men have to do get back to winning ways: nail the basics.
Last week’s 26-10 loss was their biggest against the Boks in 94 years, which has placed the side, and in particular coach Ian Foster, under immense pressure.
“I haven’t had this many losses in a such few games (in my career), but I always look at myself first,” Whitelock told reporters on Friday. “Where can I be better on and off the field. There are always things to improve on, whether that is skills-based, fitness or a mental thing.
“There is always pressure and outside noise. The main thing for me as a senior player in this team is to sort myself out first. To train well to set myself up to play well.”
The All Blacks were second best in every facet of the game last weekend, but Whitelock says they have spotted some weaknesses in the Boks.
“There are a couple of things we have identified that we can be better at, opportunities that we have seen. I won’t tell you what they are, but hopefully we can go out there and exploit those weaknesses,” he said.
“They have a good scrum, a good maul. They are big strong boys and they love to create momentum. We have to stop that, it is easier speaking about that than doing it, but we have to make sure we don’t give them an opportunity to do that.
“One of the biggest things is our discipline, we can’t give away silly penalties so they are getting opportunities to kick into corners and set up the rolling maul.”
New Zealand have suffered from slow starts in recent tests and Whitelock said that is another area they must improve.
“Going out there and executing straight away is something we have spoken about this week. South Africa are a good side and they do squeeze you if they get in front. We don’t want to give them a seven-point head start,” he said.
“We have to get better from where we were. There were some improvements last week, but at the same time there are things we didn’t quite nail. You have to nail the basics.”
Stay here to find out whether the All Blacks can get back to winning ways or stumble ever closer to a national crisis.