Rugby World Cup Pedigree:
New Zealand are clearly favourites coming into this World Cup and although they have never worn that tag with happiness, this year is surely their moment to shine. A strong Tri-Nations so far, despite their match against South Africa, they have blown everyone out the water with their potency in attack. A dangerous side, the only people standing in the way of them and the William Webb Ellis trophy is, ironically, them.
Where to start? They began well, picking up the opening tournament in 1987 but since then they have only made one final, in 1995, losing to South Africa in extra time. In 1999 they were knocked out by France in the semi finals, then lost to Australia at the same stage four years later before again losing to France, this time in the quarter finals. For a team of their calibre, their World Cup CV is certainly lacking.
Best Rugby World Cup moment:
In 1987 New Zealand hosted the first World Cup and simply blew everyone away. In what was still the amateur era they approached it with such professionalism that they were envied by other teams. Their players dominated as Grant Fox scored a tournament high 126 points and both Craig Green and John Kirwan scored six tries apiece. Unfortunately they haven’t been able to live up to that competition since.
Biggest Rugby World Cup win: 145-17 v Japan (June 4, 1995)
Biggest Rugby World Cup defeat: 43-31 v France (October 31, 1999)
So many players are key for New Zealand but one man needs to be on the pitch to help bring stability to the side and that man is Dan Carter. There is no doubt that he is the best player in his position in the world and the All Blacks miss him when he isn’t on the field, the match against South Africa recently is evident of that. There are so many examples of him orchestrating victory for his side, the 2005 British and Irish Lions tests probably the most famous. If he doesn’t perform, New Zealand struggle.
One to watch:
Sonny Bill Williams has a lot of hype surrounding him, and for good reason. His power and offload in the tackle is immense and he draws players in helping the back three cross the whitewash. I’d be surprised if Henry split up Smith and Nonu but having him as an impact player will cause many issues for tiring defences.
Rugby World Cup Fixtures:
v Tonga (September 9, 20:30/09:30)
v Japan (September 16, 20:00/09:00)
v France (September 24, 20:30/09:30)
v Canada (October 2, 15:30/03:30)
New Zealand’s first test will be France which will be a huge psychological test for the side. Having lost to them in 1999 and 2007 they will want to get that particular monkey off their back. If they unsettle France’s 8/9/10 axis they will unlock their game.
Odds: Unsurprisingly the favourites at 2/1.
New Zealand coach Graham Henry says:
“There is huge expectation, almost demanding, all the more so given that it’s quite a few years without a World Cup win happening, but that’s right and proper. That’s why the All Blacks play to such a positive level and win most Test matches. The expectation is always there. But that’s a positive, not a negative.”
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw says:
“You can look at it [the World Cup], it’s this big thing that’s coming or you can get just bloody excited about it – I think all Kiwis should. Regardless of the rugby, it’s going to be pretty cool for six weeks, and to play in it, hopefully [in my own country], I couldn’t think of anything better. And imagine winning it – look at it like that, rather than going, ‘Here we go again’.”
Unless you’ve had your head in the ground for the past year or so, New Zealand are slated to take this year’s trophy for the second time in their history. The head will always say the Kiwis have the class, the tenacity and the skill to win, but I’m still holding myself back from saying they will win outright. It all comes down to how they managed the pressure. Despite the hot air coming from many English pundits, I don’t think they will have any difficulties with the Six Nations teams and they proved recently that they can pile pressure on the likes of Quade Cooper, so Australia won’t be an issue. They are likely to meet South Africa in the semi finals which could be a stumbling block
Position: Almost certain to reach the semi finals, and also probably the final. It has to be now really.