All Blacks to lift their game

Victor Vito (File)
Victor Vito (File)

Cardiff - The mood in the All Blacks camp has altered noticeably as the reigning champions look to up the ante for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, loose forward Victor Vito said on Sunday

Faced with a reasonably easy pool, the New Zealand stuttered for much of the opening stage, only really hitting their stride in the second half of their fourth match against Tonga.

Their form triggered fears among some back home that the All Blacks might reached the knockout stages "undercooked" and ripe for another World Cup upset.

New Zealand will not know whether they face bogey team France or Six Nations champions Ireland in the last eight until later on Sunday but Vito said the mental preparations for do-or-die rugby had started.

"There's a noticeable change," Vito told reporters in Swansea.

"We've got guys who experienced 2011 and some other younger guys who are on their first one, so the change up in ante now we have put a real full stop on group play with Tonga -- you can sense a clear focus now.

"The quarter-final is there, there is no hiding from that, but it's about moving towards it and making sure we are in the right head space, which I've got no doubt we are."

Unlike Vito, who has started one game at number eight and come off the bench in two others, lock Sam Whitelock has been on the pitch at kickoff for all of New Zealand's matches at the tournament.

New Zealand's schedule -- they beat Tonga in their final pool match on Friday -- means they will have two extra days off over Ireland or France before next Sunday's meeting in Cardiff.

"We get an opportunity to really recover and put time and energy into that," said Whitelock. "Any week it's good you have a bit of time to get the energy levels back up and recover from the bumps and bruises.

"We have to make sure we do everything right."

While welcoming the prospect of a couple of days off, the rugged 26-year-old said he was hoping to play as much rugby as possible over the remainder of New Zealand's participation in the tournament.

"I feel great," he said. "I play rugby because I want to be out there playing.

"It doesn't matter if you play heaps or not a lot but myself and all the guys love being out there, love putting on the jersey and love playing for our country."

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