Time for no mistakes
FEEL that squeeze. The froth of World Cup pool play is well adrift, the tournament stakes have been raised significantly, the consequences of failure are final.
Tension levels are rising as are inquiries into how sides will attack their sudden-death matches this weekend. There is no second chance, no reprieve this time, team plans are coming under serious scrutiny.
Seasoned All Black Brad Thorn and rookie Sonny Bill Williams were talking through their ideas ahead of the side's sudden-death meeting with Argentina on Sunday at Eden Park. Both have experience of cut-throat rugby, winning NRL titles when they played league in Australia.
There was a noticeable difference between qualifying pool play and elimination rugby, they said.
"I guess in the pool play you are trying to progress into the finals. Once you get to knockout footy you know if you don't do the business this week then you are on your way home," Thorn said.
"From my experience with finals footy, it is more intense, this is when the game gets a lot more serious.
"To me as a player I have enjoyed the last month but to me this is what it is all about from now on."
Team styles did not have to shrink. Every side had spent a great deal of time together before and during the World Cup and had their games together, had earned each other's trust and needed to raise that performance.
The 36-year-old lock would not alter his routines but was a little more sparky about Sunday's shootout.
It was exciting, everything was on the line. In pool play there was always a game to follow but this was better, the nerves got a little jangled, it was time.
Williams said it was a case of tapering and players making sure they had gone over every detail. The most crucial aspect was getting their heads right for the game, making sure they were mentally sorted for the contest.
Every side that played the All Blacks raised their game so they needed to be prepared.
Asked where he would like to play on Sunday, Williams joked that he would offer himself as a No10 if needed.
He had never played wing before this World Cup but had found that change refreshing. The role had some core requirements but also offered him more freedom to roam around the park.
"Hopefully we can still express ourselves out there and still play with the freedom that we have been playing with," Williams said about Sunday.
"But we also have to acknowledge that this is knockout football and that there is no tomorrow. I think we have to find the right balance, not go into your shell and still express yourself but obviously know that it is finals time," he said.
Thorn was keyed up for the physical threat from Argentina. He liked nothing better than those sort of challenges and had huge respect for their forward play and general clout.
"What better way to measure yourself than against that sort of team, that is why it is called a test match," he added.
Daniel Carter's absence had created an impact, Williams said. Everyone had to respond and if each player did by two per cent then there would be a huge lift in team performance.
"I'm sure most of the boys would have given up their place, like myself, and taken that hit if we could but what's done is done, you can't turn back time and you have to concentrate on positives and that's what we are doing."