In 1987 Grant Fox was an integral part of the New Zealand side that won the inaugural Rugby World Cup. As a pioneer of the modern art of kicking, he amassed a monstrous 645 points from 46 test caps. Currently over in the UK chaperoning the Rugby World Cup trophy on its world tour, Jamie Hosie caught up with him to chat all things New Zealand rugby.
JH: What brings you over to England in a blustery November, Grant?
GF: I’ve got the privilege of being a DHL ambassador – which basically means I’m a courier! We’ve brought the Rugby World Cup from New Zealand back through the nations that have previously won it. It’ll reside at Twickenham for a bit where it’ll be used for promotional purposes, before it gets officially handed over from New Zealand to IRB headquarters in Dublin.
JH: Sounds like a fun trip. Looking to the autumn internationals, as a New Zealander, who are you looking to as your biggest threat?
GF: Well first up we’ve got France in Paris, and they’re never easy to beat in their own backyard, and they’ve upset us before. We got three up on them in June at home, so they’ll be looking for revenge. Then we’ve got to come to Twickenham, and we all know what happened there last year, so the majority of this group are still hurting from last year and want to right that. Then of course it’s on to Ireland, who have never beaten us, despite coming close in Christchurch last year. It’s the last game of the tour, and they’ll remember what happened when we played England on the last game of the tour last year, so they might fancy their chances. They’re all going to be tough; it’s a long season now, with a lot of test rugby to play. Usually we handle the autumn internationals quite well, we don’t tend to seem too tired or burnt out, but obviously we struggled a bit last year. The guys have been managed well this year, so hopefully we’ll be fine.
JH: If you ask any Kiwi which game stands out in their mind from the past year, it’s that loss to England – never mind the big victories, that’s the one that sticks in the memory, and rankles. How much did that loss hurt, and what did you put it down to?
GF: Obviously it hurts; any loss for the All Blacks does, and it’s the only one this group has had since 2011. The first thing I’ve got to say is that England played really well; they brought the game to the All Blacks and played with incredible intensity and passion, and really chanced their arm. We just couldn’t cope with the pressure that England put on us; we generally pride ourselves on being able to handle pressure situations in games pretty well, but we didn’t cope very well that day. I don’t want to make any excuses about the guys being tired, or it being the end of a long season, or having an illness going through the group in the week, because that would be doing a disservice to England. Even if we’d been at 100%, the result probably would have been the same. There are lessons learnt, from our point of view, because you learn more from adversity than you do from success, so I think that loss has served us well heading into this year. There’s no doubt that when we’re at Twickenham in (a little under) a couple of weeks’ time, our guys are going to be pretty well motivated, and they want to fix what happened last year.
JH: That was this group’s first loss since the last World Cup – where do you think they rank amongst all the great New Zealand side?
GF: I’m a bit loathe to do that, because era to era it’s very different, but one thing I would say is that after winning a World Cup, nations often aren’t so good. I think this group saw what happened to the last All Black group to win a world cup in ’87, who kept going really well and had a very successful period, so this group is well aware of that and they wanted to make sure that they kicked on as well – they didn’t want to be one of the sides that dropped away. I think also that fact that we’ve finally won it again is important – obviously there’s been a lot of angst in New Zealand over a long period of time that we hadn’t succeeded at a World Cup since the first one, so that little monkey’s now off our back. They’re still very driven to keep getting better, but in a way they’re a little more relaxed in doing it and I think that’s been helpful. But this game goes in cycles – we’re in a good one at the moment, and our challenge is to keep that going.
JH: Speaking of cycles – England were on top of the world in 2003, and you’ve mentioned teams falling away after winning a world cup, something which very much happened to them. Where do you think they are at the moment in that cycle of rebuilding?
GF: I’ve been very impressed with what Stuart Lancaster’s done with England, in instilling some old-fashioned values in the team. I think in a sense he’s looked into the past to come forward again. Actually, one thing I would say is that there’s a lot of attention given to these games between tournaments, but the only thing that’s predictable about World Cups is that they’re unpredictable. You’ve only got to go back to ’07, when England went into it with no form at all, and were poor in the pool phase, but started to find some form after that and made it to the final, despite having no form going in and having really struggled since ’03. What happens now will ultimately have very little bearing on what happens during the tournament, so we in New Zealand are just really focussed on the here and now.
Grant Fox was speaking as a DHL ambassador. DHL are the Official Logistics Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015. For more information visit www.dhlrugby.co.uk
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43