The Rugby Championship Preview: New Zealand

The Haka by the All Blacks

Nickname: The All Blacks
Coach: Steve Hansen
Ground: Eden Park (Main Ground)

Preview:
New Zealand are currently entering a period of transition. However unlike most teams, where transition is an acronym for lose, for the All Blacks: it simply means win, but by not as much. Although if their last performance against Ireland (60-0) is anything to go by, then, “we should all be afraid, very afraid.” Since Graham Henry’s not so quiet departure (since leaving accusing certain officials at the Rugby World Cup in 2007 of match fixing), New Zealand have been under the tutelage of Steve Hansen, formerly Henry’s number two.

Hansen’s regime has still resulted in the rudimentary wins for the All Blacks and to be honest that doesn’t look like it’s going to be changing anytime too soon. New Zealand also seem to have a conveyor belt of talent with Sam Cane and Liam Messam in the back row and Julian Savea and Ben Smith ready to tear it up in the backs.

Strengths:
Simply everything.

They have unbelievable squad depth and can afford to have a number of excellent players playing abroad at their peak, these include Byron Kelleher, Carl Hayman, Nick Evans and Luke MacAlister to name a few.

Their Captain Richie McCaw, perhaps the greatest All Black ever, is a man who demands excellence every time. McCaw’s reaction when New Zealand had just beaten Ireland 22-19 in the 2nd of the three match series this summer was something to behold. When most northern hemisphere captains would’ve been elated or relieved to have scraped a victory, McCaw was angry and embarrassed at his team for playing so poorly, he even apologised to the All Black public. They should have this tournament wrapped up pretty quickly.

Weaknesses:
None.

To be honest they don’t seem to have one. The only one I can think of is complacency, but with McCaw as captain, I somehow don’t see that seeming to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

The only other conceivable issue I can see is at line-out time, with the youth and inexperience of Brodie Retallick trying to replace the legend of All Black rugby that is Ali Williams. His inexperience may give the opposition a chance to put some pressure on the All Blacks at the line-out, but I still can’t see there being any other outcome than a kiwi victory.

Player Watch:
If Dan Carter begins to falter – and that is a big “if” – look out for Aaron Cruden from the triumphant Waikato Chiefs Super Rugby side. His game management and ball control all season has been exemplary and his relationship with the giant Sonny Bill Williams would allow New Zealand to flow through the backs.

Also keep an eye out for Hosea Gear the electric winger and the Hurricanes fullback Cory Jane who are both capable of creating something out of nothing.

Prediction:
1st. Enough said.