The All Blacks barely need an introduction, given their status as the most famous rugby team in the world. They won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, and have been consistently at the top of the game since, but have not won another title. The World Cup squad and the rugby-mad New Zealand public are craving a long-awaited triumph in France.
In 2003, the All Blacks were on course for a showdown with joint-favourites England in the final, until Australia sprang a surprise to expose some of their weaknesses. New Zealand had neglected the importance of their pack to rely on the skill and pace of their backs, and were found wanting at the set piece. John Mitchell was promptly sacked, and Graham Henry took over.
The 2007 Rugby World Cup has been on the All Blacks’ radar ever since, and they are the red-hot favourites (currently 2/5) to win. The side have developed one of the strongest packs in the world, arguably the best back row, and still possess the most ferocious running back line.
No All Black epitomises the skill and determination to win more than their captain, Richie McCaw. The IRB Player of the Year is the best openside flanker in world rugby, the top tackler in the side and rampaging at the breakdown to win turnover ball. Moreover, his lead-by-example attitude will be crucial in the latter stages of the competition in France.
Dan Carter is also widely regarded as the best fly-half around at the moment, with speed in attack, strength in defence and a near-flawless kicking game. McCaw and Carter make a mouth-watering combination as the backbone of the side.
Out wide, Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu are two of the most potent wingers in the game, with an unbelievable strike rate even against the top sides. Their sheer physicality would make them a useful addition to any side, but add to that their blistering speed and they are frightening – but they do give rise to a sensitive topic in New Zealand.
There is some concern that the All Blacks are pilfering the best players from other Pacific Island nations, such as Samoa and Fiji, thereby hindering the development of those nations in world rugby. There are significant financial packages offered to lure young players to New Zealand early in their careers whether they go onto play for the All Blacks or not.
Regardless of their recruitment policy, they are the number one side and the team to beat at the World Cup. McCaw, Carter, Rokocoko, Sivivatu as well as Rodney So’oialo, Mils Muliaina and Aaron Mauger make any game involving the All Blacks a real spectacle.