The All Blacks will have a point to prove at the World Cup after a disappointing Rugby Championship campaign as well as a drop down the rankings, writes JON CARDINELLI.
‘Give us the World Cup now’. This was the headline that appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald in the wake of the All Blacks’ 40-12 win against the Wallabies in August 2018. One writer went as far to state that no team would stop the All Blacks from claiming a third-successive title at the global tournament in Japan.
Three weeks later, however, the All Blacks were brought back to earth with a thump when they suffered their first loss to the Boks since 2014 – and just their second Test defeat on New Zealand soil since 2009.
Steve Hansen’s charges went on to lose the third Bledisloe Cup match as well as a one-off Test in Dublin. After the latter defeat, Hansen declared that Ireland rather than New Zealand should be acknowledged as the top Test team in the world.
By the end of the 2019 Rugby Championship, the critics had three more reasons to doubt the quality of the side. A second-string team battled past the Pumas in Argentina, while a stronger combination was held to a draw with the Boks in Wellington. The record defeat by Australia in Perth had the All Blacks finishing the Rugby Championship at third place in the standings.
How good is the current group of All Blacks?
The debate has continued to rage since the side bounced back in the second Bledisloe Cup game against the Wallabies in Auckland. While they may not be as polished as the class of 2015, the latter performance against the Wallabies served as a timely reminder of their attacking qualities on the eve of the World Cup in Japan.
It’s something to bear in mind when debating which team is worthy of the No 1 ranking. The All Blacks will be a force at the coming tournament regardless of where they sit on the World Rugby ladder.
The All Blacks have been the best team in the world over a period of 10 years. When Wales claimed the No 1 ranking last week, they ended New Zealand’s 509-week reign at the top of the standings.
Since the 2015 World Cup, the All Blacks have won 38 of out 46 Tests for a success rate of 83%. They have been involved in two draws and have suffered just six losses – to Ireland (twice), the British & Irish Lions, the Wallabies (twice) and the Boks – in that period.
Perhaps they aren’t as good as they were in 2015. The gap between New Zealand and the other top sides has been significantly reduced in recent times.
On the other hand, the recent setbacks may serve to eradicate the complacency that’s been creeping into their game since 2017.
They have the structures and the talent to be successful at another global tournament. In the wake of some humbling results, they will have a point to prove in Japan.
The Boks would do well to prepare for a Blacklash of epic proportions. Rassie Erasmus’ side has done well against the All Blacks over the past two years, but may find it tougher to topple New Zealand in a World Cup pool clash.
Erasmus was technical advisor to the Boks in 2011 and was SA Rugby’s high-performance manager in 2015. He’s seen this movie before, and should know what to expect.
The All Blacks failed to win the Tri-Nations in 2011 or the Rugby Championship in 2015, but went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup at the climax of both seasons. They should not be underestimated in the lead-up to the competition in Japan, and any statement regarding their decline should be saved for when – or rather if – they are knocked out of the tournament.
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