All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, a man building a substantial fan base in Japan on a level with some of his players, says his side's aim of winning three World Cups in a row is merely a reflection of New Zealand's pioneering spirit.
After a week of preparation in Kashiwa, the All Blacks enjoyed a traditional World Cup welcome at the Zōjō-ji temple in Tokyo yesterday, and Hansen, who has impressed the crowds that are following his team by occasionally speaking in Japanese, explained his team's mindset to reporters.
New Zealand is the first nation to win back-to-back Rugby World Cups. Another in the head coach's final months with the team would be obviously be extremely difficult to emulate.
"Trying to do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about," Hansen said.
"We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the earth. We have to find ways to live in isolation when life wasn't like it is today.
"They become pioneers. What's important in life, and particularly in sport, is that you've got to strive to be leaders rather than followers.
"We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited about it."
The arrival of the All Blacks in Tokyo signals the start of test week, at the end of which await the Springboks in Yokohama, and a ramp up in intensity. That includes the added scrutiny by the thousands of locals who have attached themselves to the All Blacks – a report suggested 7000 attended an open training yesterday – and the scrutiny the players and management will put on themselves.
For that reason, a week acclimatising in the more laidback environment of Kishawa was invaluable, Hansen said.
"We've really enjoyed it from a coaching point of view," he told New Zealand reporters. "I know the coaches have because there's no pressure of a game on the weekend. We've been able to do some stuff that we really needed to do but haven't had the time to do because you're always time poor when there are test matches to be played and I think we'll get the benefits.
"While it's been busy, it's been good and the weather has been fantastic. So, can't complain."
His players have been eagerly marked as targets for photos, but so has the head coach. Hansen, who may coach in Japan next year following his All Black retirement, is just as popular and a recent report in a British newspaper said the locals had given him gifts too.
"You can get bogged down with that too or you can embrace it," he said. "These people are bringing all these teams into their country and they want to be part of it. If you go along with that then they're going to have a good time too.
"If you get asked [for a photo] just imagine if you said no to them. What does damage does that do to the game in Japan or the All Blacks? We have to make sure we enjoy the off-field stuff and that's part of it. So if you just smile and say kanichiwa (hello) and arigato (thank you), they're about all I've got, so just keep using those words over and over again and you'll be okay."
As part of the welcome ceremony press conference, Hansen wasted no time attempting to put more pressure on newly No 1-ranked Ireland, whom the All Blacks may face in a quarter-final, depending on where both teams finish in their pool.
Hansen told two Irish journalists: "You blokes are number one so you've gotta be the favourites."
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