OPINION – The Baby All Blacks raced away with the U20 World Cup last weekend and, barring a couple of lulls, they never really looked threatened by their opposition. Spoilt for talent, they were able to call on some of their young guns that are already plying their trade in Super Rugby. The quality of the likes of Tevita Li and Otere Black shone through as at times they looked like men playing among boys. So will we see the depth of the New Zealand Super Rugby Conference culminate in another World Cup win in a few months time?
It tends to be the same story every four years – the All Blacks enter the World Cup as the form team with few teams even getting near them – they waltz through their pool games only to feel a little hot under the collar once the Quarter Final stage hits. And they’re declared by everyone (except the 4 million New Zealanders and the team itself) as red-hot favourites.
Looking back at World Cup history, the only World Cup in which you could say the All Blacks were generally outplayed was 1991. But at that stage ‘the curse’ hadn’t yet taken hold and they just happened to run into a really really good Wallaby side, if not one of the best sides Australia had produced.
In 1995, they were overcome by a strong sense that the World Cup was already theirs and, food poisoning rumours aside, the side that should have won the World Cup actually did (you will find very few people who disagree with the notion that the World Cup victory would have meant more to New Zealand than it did South Africa). 1999, 2003 and 2007 were simply chokes (though depending who you ask, the 2007 loss could be put down to Wayne Barnes) and they finally ‘broke the curse’ with their precarious 8-7 win against France at Eden Park. But you could argue that once again, the side that should have won it, ultimately did (though for hugely different reasons then what went on in 1995 in South Africa).
So with the Rugby World Cup quite literally kicking off in England in just under three months time, the question is on everyone’s lips – can the All Blacks do it again?
Yes but a few things will have to fall their way for McCaw to be lifting Bill in October…
Dan Carter will have to stay fit
Not only is Dan Carter 5 years older than the oldest out-half to win the World Cup in Butch James in 2007 but he is notorious for not being able to survive the entire length of a World Cup – 2007 and 2011 are are examples of this. In saying this, he’s looking in good shape and at his current powers, would probably still rank in the top 5 fly halves currently in the world. IF he stays fit and that is a big if – the All Blacks have a really good shot at being the first team to defend the World Cup.
The Dynamic Duo
Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick are huge catalysts for All Black dominance. Their work-rate, physicality and set piece play is world class and they are not only two of the best locks in the world but they form the best lock combination on the planet. They are going to need to be at the peak of their powers if the All Blacks are going to take home the silverware.
Should England and New Zealand both top their pools then they’ll be on a World Cup Final collision course. However I don’t see New Zealand beating England in a World Cup Final at the home of Rugby – the hostile home crowd, the referee, a fired up England team channelling every memory from 2012 and the external pressure. Should England navigate their way through as mentioned above, they might have to face a tough match-up against Ireland in the semi final – so they’ll have to hope for a repeat of Ireland’s 6 Nations defeat of England.
Rub of the green
Like many World Cups beforehand, referees have tended to favour the home team and Craig Joubert’s showing in the Super Rugby semi final between the Waratahs and the Highlanders showed this. Don’t expect this World Cup to be different. England are on home turf, their fans will be out in force and in voice and every anti-English act on the field will receive ample air time by the TMO which would undoubtedly receive strong reactions from the crowds. The All Blacks will have to really keep their noses clean and with McCaw’s reputation at the break down, Crockett’s reputation at scrum time and Messam’s reputation full stop then they’re going to need a touch of luck.