‘All Blacks have their share of d***heads’
When you play England, the game starts early.
Fuelled by puppet-master Eddie Jones, the UK press is firing shots at will ahead of the Poms' Rugby World Cup semi-final in an attempt to unsettle the all-conquering New Zealanders.
Perhaps the most antagonistic was a piece in the Telegraph headlined "Why the All Blacks' 'no d***heads' policy is simply a New Zealand myth".
Rugby reporter Daniel Schofield dredged up every off-field scandal the tournament favourites have endured in the past three years while heaping scorn on portrayals of the All Blacks as humble champions.
"There will be skeletons hanging in the closet of every team," Schofield wrote. "The difference is only one team presents itself as paragons of virtue, immune to criticism - New Zealand websites write whole articles off the back of tweets criticising the haka or mildly critical press conference questions - and free of d***heads.
"As much as they like to pretend otherwise, the All Blacks have more than their fair share of d***heads. Just like the rest of us."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was also asked to respond to spying claims by England counterpart Jones.
Jones told reporters this week England had seen someone filming their training session in Tokyo, though he did not specifically accuse the New Zealanders of being the culprits.
"Eddie and I both know it's all fair in love and war," Hansen told a media conference on Thursday after naming his side for Saturday's semi-final at Yokohama Stadium.
"And Eddie knows in a time of war that you throw out a bit of distraction for you guys (the media) to deal with. Best clickbait in the world, 'someone is spying on us'.
"He didn't say it was us. He was very deliberate in doing that. He talked about it being someone else, probably a fan. But everyone has jumped on it. (He) has been very clever."
Hansen added that he and Jones exchanged text messages and "laughed" at the claims and the stories about the pair's mind games ahead of the semi-final. "It's a mind game only if you buy into it," Hansen said. "As I said, it's allowed us to have a good laugh."
The New Zealander also dismissed suggestions in some quarters the All Blacks are under more pressure than Jones' side, given they are the two-time defending champions.
"I have talked about pressure since I have been All Blacks coach," he said. "Early in our history we probably ran away from it and … let it chase us down the street.
"These days we acknowledge it's there. We get it every game … doesn't matter if it's a quarter-final, semi-final or a Test match. There is pressure, but it would be very naive not to acknowledge it to be on both sides."
Hansen also said he doubts that Jones believes his own statement that England have "nothing to lose".
"They will have memories of the tournament from four years ago, where it didn't go that good," Hansen said, of England's failure to go beyond the pool phase of the tournament they hosted four years ago.
"For him to say they have nothing to lose, Eddie doesn't believe that either. They have had four years of work resulting in one outcome … they have built themselves up for this. That brings its own pressure."