Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: New Zealand

Kieran Read

As has been the case for every Rugby World Cup since the inaugural tournament in 1987, New Zealand go into this edition as favourites to lift the Webb Ellis trophy. Are they worthy of that label? It’d take a brave man to argue no.

In typically-merciless All Black fashion, Steve Hansen’s men ripped Tonga to shreds in their final warm-up match before kick-off in Japan, sending a message to their doubters. A recent humbling at the hands of Australia had some questioning the Kiwis’ mindset and credentials ahead of the World Cup; they have swiftly set the record straight.

Ninety-two points were racked up against the Pacific Islanders in a devastating display of clinical finishing, tireless running, and team cohesion. A similar performance a few weeks prior saw New Zealand get revenge on the Wallabies at the first time of asking. If nothing else, the defeat to the Australians got Hansen’s squad refocused and fired up.

That’s ominous for every other nation flying out to east Asia, though not nearly as ominous as the players at the All Blacks’ disposal. No other frontrow on the planet has the ball-playing skills of Dane Coles, Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala, nor the speed across the turf. Having such fleet-footed forwards is essential to the high-octane brand of rugby Hansen demands from his side.

Brodie Retallick, Patrick Tuipulotu, and Sam Whitelock are a fearsome trio to have in the engine room. Both the Chiefs and Crusaders locks have reached the pinnacle of the sport; Retallick won World Player of the Year in 2014, whilst Whitelock has always been a reasonable shout for the greatest second-row around, except when his partner earned the aforementioned accolade, of course. So yes, New Zealand are well-stocked up front.

It just gets more and more terrifying as you continue to scroll through the squad. When Richie McCaw hung up his boots following his country’s triumph in 2015, few would have suggested that Kieran Read – regardless of his immense talents – could fill the void of such an inspirational leader. No one is saying the number eight has been quite at the same level as his predecessor, but he’s hardly struggled under the weight of the captaincy. Game-changing performances are still his forte and you can guarantee he will make the right decision with a penalty 99 times out of 100.

Add the blistering Ardie Savea – who has made his brother a distant memory – and pilfer-king Sam Cane next to Read, and you have arguably the finest backrow at the 2019 World Cup. David Pocock, Michael Hooper, and Isi Naisarani are marvellous, with the same true of Billy Vunipola, Mark Wilson, and Tom Curry. However, the latter trio fall well short in terms of experience – New Zealand’s backrow has a combined 224 caps.

Matches are won and lost in the backrow battle and the All Blacks are the Roman Legion of modern-day rugby. But, what does that mean? It means a monumental collapse is a distinct possibility, just as it was in 2007… and 2003… and 1999… and so on. You should never rule out the chances of a Kiwi blowout, though you should also never bet against them at a World Cup. Confusing, right?

How can we tell if this tournament will be like the last two or the five that came before it? I’ll put my neck on the line and say it will be more like the latter, simply because there are more teams who appear genuinely capable of mounting a challenge for glory in Tokyo, meaning there are far more hurdles for Hansen’s recruits to trip over. Past tournaments tell us the Kiwis are susceptible to failure when they are pushed to the limits and under incredible pressure.

Additionally, a golden generation of New Zealander has moved on since 2015; McCaw, Ma’a Nonu, Keven Mealamu, Conrad Smith, a young and motivated Julian Savea, Jerome Kaino… that’s some stellar personnel to lose in the space of one World Cup cycle, even if the current crop are still brilliant.
A backline containing lightning scrumhalf Aaron Smith (and his equally magnificent deputy TJ Perenara), the superlative Beauden Barrett, try-fiend Rieko Ioane, and Mr Reliable Ben Smith is a force to be reckoned with – but is this a vintage All Blacks squad?

You certainly can’t say complacency will be their downfall, with many of these players never having earned a world champions’ medal, but they are also not the unstoppable powerhouse that blitzed its way to the Webb Ellis trophy four years ago.

I may never live this down, but here goes nothing. This New Zealand side will not be making it a hat-trick of consecutive crowns for their nation. Their throne will be stolen by one of Wales, Ireland, England, or South Africa. Famous last words, eh?

By Ed Alexander

Here is New Zealand’s likely route in the World Cup:

Rugby World Cup

23 thoughts on “Rugby World Cup 2019 Contenders: New Zealand

    1. Bet Ed wouldn’t state that in NZ! Or to Steve wot’s his name, Boaty McBoatface’s face? Anything new here Acee? What do you, Kilroy & the bookies reckon? AB’s to steam roller all? Next Sat to tell more? Reckon so.

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      1. I think , as do a lot of pundits and fans , Don, that this comp seems to be quite hard to predict.
        Having said that,i can’t see Ed’s troops sweeping all before them. Our campaign will grind to a halt at the Semi final stage. For me it’s ‘Boks V Fearns in the final (if the permutations allow for it).

  1. It says so much that this is the worst All Blacks side I have seen go to a world cup since I started following rugby but they’re still the team to beat/avoid for every single other country. It’s also funny how so many people seem to think they’re the best team but far fewer think they will win the thing. I wonder if it’s more the fact that people are bored of the All Blacks dominance and fancy someone else to win it this time. Personally my head says the All Blacks will win the world cup but my gut says England will knock them out and then lose the final to Wales.

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  2. So in every other team preview you have shown the path to the final in the graphic but for NZ you show them going out in the semis to of all teams France. I think don has a right to be cheesed off with this article

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    1. Why cheesed off Leon? When people often mistake me for an Oz, then apologise for their assumption, I am not in the least offended. It’s their error you see. Likewise here? We’ll see.

  3. NZ are still favourites to win this thing and still the team to beat. The number of fans/pundits saying otherwise is down to a desire to see a change from the norm (of over a decade). Yes they have lost a few test this year and dont look quite as strong as the vintage teams of yesteryear but they are still a force to be reckoned with when they perform well. Could they have an off day and lose a KO game yes but they will enter every match as the fravorites

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    1. If I’d expressed similar sentiments Leon, I’d likely be accused of being anti or biased or of sour grapes or whatever. However, much stuff is unsubstantiated opinion. Like this is the ‘poorest AB side I’ve seen’ or ‘not a patch on the last WC side’ etc & so on. Reality is better expressed by you. They’ve been No.1 side for the past decade or so & in reality they still are. I think that after experimenting with a rookie team in Argentina, the dual playmakers @ fly1/2 & f/back & then falling over v Oz 1st up with 14, they sorted it in the nxt 2. For me they look ominous. SA will confirm this, or not. For Ed to ‘talk’ NZ up, only for him to conclude that they’ll fall over to Fr, is frankly, fanciful thinking. They might go out, as could any team, but the evidence & their record, mostly, refute this view. Even Hutch previously expressed boredom @ NZ’s dominance. Leaving aside provincialism, the answer is of course, for other teams to play better rugby, rather than resent the AB’s for doing do. It’s up to them to pick up their games & the only thing stopping them is themselves. Other teams have gr8er resources. They need to deploy them better IMO. Anyway, as foretold already, nxt Sat will give a better pointer, so.. fingers xxed!

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  4. With NZL finishing top of the group, I assume you’re picking them to win the opener over RSA? If that’s the case I like their chances, as you’ve drawn up against Scotland and France to make it to the final. If they drop the opener and finish second in the group, then I think their chances to make it to the final drop a smidge, with having then to go through Ireland and England or Wales.

  5. When did you start watching rugby then TTD? Within the last 4? NZ will likely, by the 1/4ers, have 5 of the last WC pack & 5 of that back line available. They won a WC. However, If the present lot are the worst, what’s that say about the rest, incl yr team? Too subjective TTD. Didn’t you watch Oz II & Tonga? But all the same, hope EJ believes you!

  6. Some AB observations.

    Surprised @ Frank’s & Squire’s omissions. OF is highly experienced. Although Squire has had extensive injuries, he was playing again, is big, fast, robust, direct & the incumbent AB blindside. A genuine 6.

    That they are out may indicate, with Savea’s inclusion, the dual playmaker option @ fly1/2 & f/back & the intro of 2 new wings, how NZ intend to play. With Mobility, in the dry conditions. Just as they did v Oz II & particularly Tonga. Not rocket stuff I suppose.

    They will aim to win the breakdown for sure. And with a proficient, tight piece pack of pace & particularly ball handling skills, they possess ability to play it tight or loose.

    Alongside a mostly WC seasoned baclkine, they have also introduced the already mentioned 2 new & elusive speedsters, Reece & Bridge, out wide. I suspect that they’re not there for a haircut.

    I think that NZ will aim to play a high tempo, accurate, fast game, but one with variety & options to be adaptable. Play what’s before them. They’ll likely mix it up with tactical kicking.

    Whether it’s enough to win it, who knows? However, Hansen will have pointed out to his squad the beckoning history of an unprecedented 3 in a row. The AB’s will be highly motivated & have self belief. Hansen will have planned to go out on a high.

    Just like a few others.

      1. Just the right amount Don!! Cheers.
        Re the AB’s omitted players, it seems that all the major teams have decided to play mix and match with their selections. ed (Jones), keeps banging on about picking certain teams foe certain games and the hard fast pitches in Jpn.
        I assume these are key factors in what some of us see as slightly unusual squads?

  7. When it comes down to it Acee, coaches will pick what THEY see are their best teams from squads selected for dry grounds. They may cotton wool some during pool stages, but unlikely beyond. E.g. Eng: MV, Geo, Sinck Underhill (Wilson), Itoje, Kruis, Curry, BV, Youngs, Farrell, May, Tui, Slade, Nowell, Daly, assuming availability. Poss variation sees Ford in, forcing line & Slade out? With chips down, EJ goes orthodox IMO. May pick Wilson 6, on pool form, but conditions, previous picks favour Underhil? NZ with SA 1st up, so best up? Moody, Coles, Laulala, Savea, Whitelock, S Barrett (Tuipulotu), Cane, Read, A Smith, B Barrett, Ioane, SBW, Crotty (Goodhue), Reece, B Smith. Don’t see Mounga & BB starting.. probably. 2nd of bracketed 2, JG, could start, not both..possibly. Presume Retallick still recouping. For some, let the honeymoon commence, for others, it may already be over!

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  8. No charge, but in case of possible interest, here’s the AB RWC 31.

    17 Forwards:
    3 Hookers
    Dane Coles (32, Hurricanes / Wellington, 64)
    Liam Coltman (29, Highlanders / Otago, 5)
    Codie Taylor (28, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)

    5 Props
    Nepo Laulala (27, Chiefs / Counties Manukau, 19)
    Joe Moody (30, Crusaders /Canterbury, 40)
    Atu Moli (24, Chiefs / Tasman, 2)
    Angus Ta’avao (29, Chiefs / Taranaki, 7)
    Ofa Tuungafasi (27, Blues / Auckland, 29)

    4 Locks
    Scott Barrett (25, Crusaders / Taranaki, 30)
    Brodie Retallick (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 77)
    Patrick Tuipulotu (26, Blues / Auckland, 24)
    Samuel Whitelock (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 111)

    5 Loose forwards
    Sam Cane (27, Chiefs / Bay of Plenty, 63)
    Luke Jacobson (22, Chiefs / Waikato, 1)
    Kieran Read (33, Crusaders / Counties Manukau, 121) – Captain
    Ardie Savea (25, Hurricanes / Wellington, 38)
    Matt Todd (31, Crusaders / Canterbury, 20)

    14 Backs:
    3 Halfbacks
    TJ Perenara (27, Hurricanes / Wellington, 58)
    Aaron Smith (30, Highlanders / Manawatu, 86)
    Brad Weber (28, Chiefs / Hawke’s Bay, 2)

    2 First five-eighths
    Beauden Barrett (28, Blues / Taranaki, 77)
    Richie Mo’unga (25, Crusaders / Canterbury, 12)

    4 Midfielders
    Ryan Crotty (30, Crusaders / Canterbury, 44)
    Jack Goodhue (24, Crusaders / Northland, 9)
    Anton Lienert-Brown (24, Chiefs / Waikato, 37)
    Sonny Bill Williams (33, Blues / Counties Manukau, 53)

    5 Outside backs
    Jordie Barrett (22, Hurricanes / Taranaki, 11)
    George Bridge (24, Crusaders / Canterbury, 4)
    Rieko Ioane (22, Blues / Auckland, 26)
    Sevu Reece (22, Crusaders / Waikato, 2)
    Ben Smith (33, Highlanders /Otago, 79)

    Name that team in 1!

  9. Bit puzzled, surprised that there were more comments on the AB WC article than for SA, Eng & Scotland. Then realised that 10/16 were mine! Er, make that 11/17 now! Yikes!

  10. Twiddling thumbs following gym session earlier, so hear goes.

    Ed Alex’s AB WC article states that NZ tore Tonga to shreds, humbled Oz & set the record straight for the doubters whom had queried AB cred.

    He next bigged up the Kiwi pack’s speed, skills for high octane rugger demanded (is it?) by Hansen. Likewise with their 3 locks, although seemingly forgetting about Scotty Barrett.

    Then came captain fantastic Read’s turn as a game changer & decision maker extraordinaire.

    Thereafter was the blistering Savea’s turn, followed by the pilfer king Cane. This back row have 3 totted up oodles of caps & exp equating to their being the Roman Legion of modern rugby (just hope they haven’t heard of Cannae!).

    But, wait for it, all this amounts to a potentially, likely, monumental Kiwi collapse & blow out in Japan!

    Confusing? You ‘said’ it Ed! And as for the bookies? What do they know anyway?

    Hold your horses though, there’s more.

    The Kiwis are susceptible to failure when pushed to the limits, under pressure. Like everyone else I suppose & notwithstanding their 3 WC’s. Never mind though. They’ll also have more hurdles this time in Japan.. unless they win their group of course!

    Additionally, their golden generation have moved on ( McCaw, Kaino, Nonu, C Smith etc). Even if the current crop are still brill (lightning A Smith, magnificent TJP, superlative BB, try fiend Ioane, Mr. Reliable B Smith), is this a vintage AB squad?

    F***, I don’t know Ed, I’m so friggen confused already!

    And there’s even more?! Please help!

    Apparently there are MANY in the AB squad whom haven’t won a WC medal, apart from 5 fwds & 5 backs i.e. Even so, they won’t be complacent because they’re not the blitzing powerhouse of 4 yrs ago. Well, isn’t that yet to be seen Ed?

    Finally, this NZ side will not be making it a hat-rick of consecutive crowns. France will knock them out. If only they could have beaten the Jocks!

    Famous last words? Yeah & then you woke up Ed.. I hope.

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