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Rugby World Cup will be tougher to win - Fox

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Lynn McConnell     04 Jul 2019     Getty Images

Although it was the second time he had been involved in Cup selection, Fox said the difference this time was there wasn't the depth of experience that players like Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock provided.

"Experience is still important. You can't go into that stage and chuck all your experience out. These coaches know their athletes, they know their men well. I'm confident we'll get the blend right in terms of experience and young exciting talent and then we've just got to go and try to play well," he said.

"We know if we play well we are a difficult side to beat. This is going to be a tough World Cup to win. No question. I think it will be the toughest because I think there are more genuine contenders this time round than perhaps there has ever been. And it's new, it's in Japan and it's new for everybody."

Damian McKenzie's absence due to his leg injury made the back selection difficult for the selectors as he was the logical player to cover multiple positions for the side – two in particular [first five-eighths and fullback] and he's played on the wing for us.
"We've still got a little decision-making to go on around this and if Richie [Mo'unga] or Beauden [Barrett] gets hurt we need someone else ready regardless of whether we pick another 10 to go to the World Cup or not. Hence Josh [Ioane] is in this group, whether he makes the World Cup or not we will have to wait and see but he'll get an opportunity. He needs to understand what we're doing too," he said.

McKenzie's injury had been unfortunate because he was slated to play an important role for the side at the World Cup as he had been doing late in the 2018 season.

"We've already got a guy who can do that, his name's Beauden Barrett so we've already had that guy in the group for a long, long time. Having two was gold for us. As Steve [Hansen] said, that utility value, when you narrow the squad down to 31 is very important," he said.

The closest other player to achieving that was Mo'unga because he played at the back a lot as well. He went back on defence, was good under the high ball and very good at bringing the ball forward.

Fox said he didn't want to pre-empt the selection process but it was a case of how things worked out in the likely 17-14 split for the tournament.

It was timely that Ioane had such a positive season with the Highlanders. Fox said there had been some head-scratching going on after McKenzie's injury about who might be next.

As a result the selectors had done a 'deep dive' into assessing all the contenders and Ioane's form had been compelling.

"He's not the finished product by any stretch, there's a way to go yet but we love the way he takes the ball flat and runs at the line, he's quick, he's quite a big lad too. He kicks the ball well enough [tactically] but still needs a bit of work. He goalkicks well.
"He's a good distributor of the ball, there's a little technical thing, we want him to get a bit squarer and not roll his shoulders quite as much as he does but that's what Beauden used to do too and it's taken a while to get that out of him so he's [Ioane] still a young man learning that craft but he'll get a chance to get inside our camp. Fozzie [Ian Foster] will get a chance to work with him and he'll understand what we're about and should we need him it will be easy to bring him in dead cold," Fox said.

Having Barrett and Mo'unga meeting three times already in high-quality games this season was good for the New Zealand game.

"On Saturday night I thought they both played well and both had to make some adjustments during the game, the Hurricanes particularly tactically and I thought they did that really well.

"And they've both been on the park [at the same time] for us at times too and there's still an opportunity for that to happen. They're both very quick, they're both very comfortable running the cutter, dictating the terms of play. They're both good first receivers obviously because they play 10. They can both play in the backfield and so when you're playing off the middle of the park at times, when we were doing what we were doing with Damian last year, that's just another thing we're mulling over," he said.

Speed was important in the way the All Blacks could play the game and although he had no scientific or statistical back-up to back up his claim the former All Black and 1987 World Cup winner Fox said if they were able to pick the team they wanted he didn't think there would be a backline in the world that was faster.

"And I'm not sure there's too many times in history that we could have said that. And we're not bad up front either. We've got three very athletic locks and we've got a loose forward in Ardie [Savea] who can run with most of the backs.

"Speed is important but this now, is a game of inches. You've got to win the contact area with or without the ball and if you can do that it goes a long way towards winning the game and if you can do that and add the ingredient of speed to it, to give you front foot ball, you become a hard side for anyone to deal with," he said.