Rugby World Cup: Dane Coles warns All Blacks teammates over what failure in semi-final against Argentina would mean

There's nothing crueller in rugby than playing for third place at a Rugby World Cup.

Rather than draw a line under failure to win a semi-final, two teams' plans have to turn to playing for bronze, in a match that no side ever wants to play in. 

For All Blacks veteran Dane Coles, doing so at this year's tournament in France is an outcome he's determined to avoid at all costs.

Dane Coles celebrates.
Dane Coles celebrates. Photo credit: Getty Images

With last weekend's victory over Ireland in Paris, the All Blacks have bought themselves another week at the World Cup, and will now face Argentina at the Stade de France on Saturday (NZ time) to book their spot to play for the Webb Ellis Cup.

But if there was any extra motivation needed, the All Blacks need look no further than what happened four years ago.

In eerily similar circumstances, Sir Steve Hansen's side put everything into a quarter-final win over Ireland, only to fall flat against England a week later, and end up facing Wales for third to finish their tournament.

This time around, though, the All Blacks assert those lessons have been learned. In his final days as an All Black, Coles knows the highs and lows of World Cups.

A winner in 2015, the 36-year-old also had to end his campaign with bronze in Japan.

And now, as he prepares for the end of his professional career altogether, Coles wants to sign off playing for New Zealand's fourth World Cup triumph.

Argentina celebrate against Wales.
Argentina celebrate against Wales. Photo credit: Getty Images

"I don't want to be playing in a third/fourth game again, like we did in 2019," said Coles. "That's my motivation. It's a s**t week if I'm being brutally honest, playing for third and fourth, getting knocked out of a semi.

"Regardless of who you're playing, it doesn't matter. You're playing in the semi-final of a World Cup.

"If you don't turn up, you're in for a week that tests you mentally, physically and emotionally.

"I want to make sure I turn up. Wherever I am this week, regardless of playing the Pumas, [I'll] try to get another Monday.

"It's not [about] who the opposition is, it's about us getting to the ultimate goal of playing a World Cup final. All our energy is in this semi-final."

Given the nature of the shorter, six-day turnaround, the All Blacks' week becomes even more difficult.

Mentally, the team have to completely remove success against Ireland from their minds, and prepare for the challenge of Los Pumas. 

And given the way the team peaked in the quarter-final four years ago, Coles says the All Blacks can't settle for anything other than improvement. 

"We'll take a lot of confidence, but we have to go to another gear," he said. "We've all seen, the World Cups are very different, with the results over the weekend.

Dane Coles and Ardie Savea.
Dane Coles and Ardie Savea. Photo credit: Getty Images

"They're going to be a different beast. It wasn't that long ago that we lost to them in New Zealand for the first time.

"We know when they're in a good spot, and they turn up, they're a physical team. It's crucial we lift to another gear and go again."

Argentina's recent history against the All Blacks is nothing to be baulked at either.

In the Ian Foster era, Argentina defeated New Zealand for the first time in 2020 with a backs-to-the-wall win in Syndey.

Then, last year, Los Pumas went one better, and defeated the All Blacks on home soil in Christchurch, the test after Foster saved his job with victory away in Johannesburg.

As part of both All Blacks sides to have suffered those losses, Coles admits the fear of doing it again on the biggest stage is fuelling his need to win come Saturday. 

"I've been in the team that lost to them in Aussie, lost to them in New Zealand," he said. "That caused the team a lot of hurt. I personally still have that fear.

"That fear drives you. It's good to have that knowledge, let it energise you and get you to a place where you need to be."

All up, the All Blacks have played Argentina 36 times, winning 33 losing two and drawing one.  

In World Cups, the two sides have met three times, with the All Blacks winning all three.

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