World Cup - Calm before storm for New Zealand
A New Zealand side forged in adversity and mindful of a history they are not allowed to forget relaxed on Monday before getting into the serious business of preparing for their first rugby World Cup final for 16 years.
The All Blacks, who have fallen in the knockout stages at the past three World Cups despite entering the tournament as favourites on each occasion, stepped up to the mark on Sunday by defeating trans-Tasman rivals Australia 20-6.
They will meet France at Eden Park on Sunday in a repeat of the inaugural World Cup final in 1987, which the All Blacks won 29-9.
"Today we are fairly relaxed, soaking it in," lock Brad Thorn, who was at the heart of a fiercely disciplined tight five, told reporters. "Tomorrow it's back to business. No one is going to care who won the semi-finals in 2011."
New Zealand were beaten at the semi-final stages in their only two previous World Cup matches against Australia. They lost to South Africa in the 1995 final and have been beaten by France in a semi-final and quarter-final.
The 2007 quarter-final loss to France was a particular blow to a nation who believed that this time they had a side who would finally go all the way and the reappointment of the management team attracted some virulent criticism.
Head coach Graham Henry was the focus of much of the anger and on Monday he first paid tribute to a heroic performance by his team and then reflected on the lessons learned by repeated failure.
"We have looked at the history over a period of time," Henry said. "We went in 2007 with one game at a time. This time we have dissected the rugby World Cup and looked at why the All Blacks haven't won for 24 years.
"We have tried to find out the reasons for that and had a very good look at 2007 in particular and have used that, hopefully, to gain more information, more knowledge how to win this tournament."
Henry, with a final against France looming at the weekend, understandably did not go into details about the conclusions the All Blacks management had reached but did say there would be adjustments to their game plan against a side who have dumped them unceremoniously out of two World Cups.
This year New Zealand, who had romped through the group stages of the previous three World Cups before going up against the hard realities of knockout rugby, had a demanding opening game against Tonga.
France played well in the opening stages of their pool match and Argentina in the quarter-finals displayed with the resilience and commitment they demonstrated four years ago when they finished third to give New Zealand another tough workout.
On the way, the All Blacks suffered a savage body blow when Daniel Carter, the best flyhalf in their celebrated history, was ruled out of the remainder of the tournament with a groin injury.
Fullback Mils Muliaina left in the quarter-finals with a shoulder injury and openside flanker and captain Richie McCaw, a player as distinguished as Carter, is nursing a chronic injury to his right foot and has barely trained for the past fortnight.
On Sunday Piri Weepu, who stepped up as goalkicker in Carter's absence against Argentina to kick each of his seven penalties, was suffering fron a flu virus and was off-form with his place kicking.
Despite these setbacks, the All Blacks played some of the best rugby they have shown at a World Cup on Sunday and flyhalf Aaron Cruden confirmed he is the natural successor to Carter.
"This team has been together for a long time," Henry said. "This is the most experienced All Black team to play the game.
"We try to get better at the things we do as a group, off the field and on the field. They are certainly trying to make sure that people who come into contact with the All Blacks enjoy themselves and get something out of that contact.
"And because of the experience they are getting better on the field."