New Zealand flanker Liam Messam has shrugged off the All Blacks’ favourites tag for the Rugby World Cup and insisted the reigning champions will take nothing for granted.
The All Blacks kick off their campaign against Argentina on Sunday with a fearsome 91.48 per cent win ratio from the last four years, having only lost three games since lifting the Web Ellis Cup in 2011.
Despite high-profile slip-ups in previous tournaments, they remain the bookmakers’ favourites to hoist the trophy again on 31 October. Yet Messam says the team ignores the accolades and acclaim that accompany them and are ready to get down to business.
“This team’s very grounded. We’re very humble in what we do,” the 31-year-old Waikato Chiefs captain told City A.M.
“We’re focusing on Argentina first up. Every day we just prepare to get that performance level we need. Nothing’s taken for granted on this team because it can be taken away from you just like that. We’re very humble and grateful to be in the position we are.”
The All Blacks know better than most about failing to meet expectation, having entered nearly every World Cup as favourites but only having won tournaments on home soil.
They were offered a stark recent reminder of how quickly an air of invincibility can dissipate after losing to Australia for the first time in four years in their penultimate pre-World Cup game – “a good reminder about ourselves and where we needed to be”, says Messam.
Adding to the All Blacks aura is their haka, led by Messam who explains that despite its ferocity, the ancestral dance is misunderstood as a challenge to the opposition.
“It’s all about us and connecting us together,” the Maori forward explains. “Rugby’s a combat sport and you want to make sure that your mate next to you is ready to go into battle. It connects us as a group so we’re ready to get out there.”
Messam has been met with a deafening chorus of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot when directing the haka on English soil, but insists he relishes the response.
“The English way, that’s their haka I guess, to sing that song,” he said. “That’s them and I pay mad respect to them for doing that. It’s not a problem, the boys always enjoy it. That’s their way of dealing with the haka. Those things in rugby, you just can’t really experience it anywhere else. To have those experiences is awesome.”
Liam Messam was speaking on behalf of AIG, the Official Insurance Partner of New Zealand Rugby. AIG is bringing fans closer to the All Blacks’ haka than ever before. Take the challenge at AIG.com/Haka360