Leon MacDonald has cautioned those who have tipped New Zealand to win the World Cup not to get carried away.
The All Blacks are favourites to win the tournament in France, a position they are not unfamiliar with, and after their emphatic 47-3 victory over France on Saturday the belief that Graham Henry’s side will march home with the William Webb Ellis trophy has been further entrenched.
MacDonald though sought to temper the optimism with a reality check, recalling their dominance in previous pre-World Cup seasons, and their subsequent failure to deliver at the showpiece event.
In 1999 they thumped France 54-7 in a Test at Athletic Park, but where famously blitzed in a now famous French second-half display in the semi-final of the World Cup.
And MacDonald could relate even more closely to the lead-up to the 2003 tournament.
“In the Tri Nations we rolled South Africa by 40 points (52-16) and Australia (50-21) by a lot and the Wallabies ended up beating us in the World Cup,” MacDonald told the Herald.
“So we’re very aware that there’s still a whole year to go and teams can change a lot in a year.
“It’s probably a dangerous position to be in a year out [of the World Cup], everyone’s looking at the way you play but we have got room to improve.”
The 28-year-old utility back described his side an “ongoing project” and added that they were in pursuit of a sustained 80-minute display.
“We’ve always strived for consistency and we probably got that for a longer period of time against France than we have in all the other tests we’ve played well in.
“It’s been 40 or 50 minutes but in Lyon we felt it was getting over 70 minutes of really good rugby.
“That’s one of the things we’re proud of.”
The Crusaders man said he was disappointed at the French performance but sounded an implicit caution to his teammates ahead of the second Test in Paris on Saturday.
“Traditionally the French are exciting in the backs and we probably didn’t quite see that,” MacDonald said.
“That’s probably something they’ll go back and look at and say `we looked our best when we were running with the ball’, so they’ll probably bring that game this week.”
In Lyon the All Blacks intensity, particularly at the breakdown. stunned their hosts, who had no answer to the rabid foraging of Richie McCaw or the bruising cleaning of Carl Hayman and co.
Assistant coach Steve Hansen lauded the effort. “We would have liked to play to that intensity at Twickenham [two weeks ago].
There are a lot of players who haven’t played in long time and we saw the benefits of that game under their belts,” Hansen said.
“I know there were 10 fresh players but a lot of them played in the [New Zealand Cup] final a few weeks ago.”
Meanwhile France have brought flanker Serge Betsen back into the 22-man squad.
If he starts in Paris, coach Bernard Laporte will be looking to the 32-year-old to employ his renowned ball stealing and slowing ability at the breakdown in an attempt to at least achieve parity with an all Blacks side that has the whole world gushing.