New Zealand boss Steve Hansen has accused South Africa counterpart Rassie Erasmus of trying to pressurise referees into preferential treatment towards the Springboks.
Back-to-back reigning world champions New Zealand will launch the defence of the Webb Ellis Cup by taking on South Africa in Yokohama on Saturday.
Springboks head coach Erasmus this week insisted New Zealand have for years received soft officiating as referees entered matches with the “preconceived idea” that the All Blacks would win.
A frustrated but as ever phlegmatic Hansen offered a withering assessment of Erasmus’s comments, hoping that French official Jerome Garces will not be swayed by the Springbok influence.
“It’s pretty obvious what they are trying to do; whilst I have a lot of respect for South Africa and Rassie, I don’t agree with what he’s doing,” said Hansen.
“He’s trying to put pressure on the referees externally, and they are under enough pressure already. They don’t need coaches to be doing what he’s doing.
“It doesn’t matter who is the ref, as a coach or as a team,,,,, you can always find things after a game that they didn’t do and you can get emotional about it and think they are taking it out on you and not the opposition. We’ve done it ourselves.
“But at the end of the day, they go out to do the best they can do.
“Yes, they don’t get it right all they time, and we’ve suffered from that. But it’s just like other teams. It’s a big game and we just need to let the referee get on with it.”
Asked if he would hope the World Cup officials are strong-willed enough to ignore any such influence, Hansen added: “Well they are not stupid people at all, so you’d like to hope so. That’s all I can say about that really.”
Beauden Barrett will start at full-back for New Zealand’s Pool B opener against the in-form Springboks.
The 28-year-old slots into the 15 shirt to accommodate attacking playmaker Richie Mo’unga at fly-half, with stellar full-back Ben Smith taking a seat on the bench.
Ryan Crotty starts at inside centre with the back-to-back world champion All Blacks boasting three hugely-talented playmakers in their starting backline.
Sonny Bill Williams takes a seat on the bench, with Anton Lienert-Brown partnering Crotty in the centres from the off.
Sevu Reece will make his World Cup debut on his fourth cap, with fellow wing George Bridge featuring in just his sixth Test match.
Matt Todd has a sore shoulder, so Shannon Frizell steps up to take a seat on the bench.
Hansen backed star centre Williams to step off the bench and hand the All Blacks an extra dimension – just as he did in the 2015 final when New Zealand defeated Australia 34-17 to retain the crown they had lifted in 2011.
“Sonny hasn’t played much over the last six weeks so he’ll give us something different off the bench, he’ll bring us something different,” said Hansen.
“It’s a great opportunity that’s similar to what he did in the final four years ago.
“I don’t think we’ve got a number-one starting XV, we’ve got a group of 23 players we’ll use depending on who we’re playing.
“We’ll chop and change, that was our point in selecting our 31.
“We wanted the ability to do different things with different people.”
New Zealand team to face South Africa:
B Barrett (Blues), S Reece, A Lienert-Brown, R Crotty, G Bridge, R Mo’unga (all Crusaders), A Smith (Highlanders), J Moody (Crusaders), D Coles (Hurricanes), N Laulala, S Whitelock, S Barrett (all Crusaders), A Savea (Hurricanes), S Cane (Chiefs), K Read (Crusaders, capt).
Replacements: C Taylor (Crusaders), O Tuungafasi (Blues), A Ta’avao (Chiefs), P Tuipulotu (Blues), S Frizell (Highlanders), TJ Perenara (Hurricanes), SB Williams (Blues), B Smith (Highlanders).