After winning the inaugural tournament in 1987, New Zealand became the proverbial under-achievers of rugby union World Cups. Every four years they would be billed as the favourites, as the most gifted side. However, every time the game’s showpiece arrived, they contrived to fall short. In 2011, on their home turf, this reputation changed as Richie McCaw lifted the Web Ellis Trophy. The ultimate challenge had been achieved yet the next is to do it again. One off success is do-able; repetitive glory is a much harder proposition.
As the 2015 World Cup moves excitingly closer, rivals will be hoping that the All-Blacks are finding this transition difficult. They are not. Indeed they have just won the Rugby Championship for a third successive year with a game to spare. England surprisingly pushed them harder than many anticipated during their New Zealand tour but still lost the series 3-0. Twice they came extremely near to a famous win but ominously twice they were still not able to get over the line before being terrorised 36-13 in the final game. Similarly, Australia recently went one better in the Rugby Championship by holding them to a 12-12 draw. The New Zealand response was to thrash their rivals 52-20 in the next game. It would seem that, even when they fall short of their lofty standards and even when against other impressive international sides, New Zealand are still enormously difficult to beat. When they don’t get it right they more often than not still come out on top. When they do, they are simply mesmerizing to watch. The overwhelming superiority was perhaps questioned during England’s valiant tour but don’t let that fool you – New Zealand are still very much the team to beat.
Any international contest now, be it a competitive encounter or a friendly, is enormously important with the Wold Cup less than a year away. Talent is important but form and confidence is vital in tournament rugby. Teams need to peak at the right time – for New Zealand that process is well underway. Twelve months is a long time in sport but right now it is looking worrying for their rivals. Although they drew their first game with the Wallabies, the 2014 Investec Rugby Championship still saw them thrash Australia the second time around and dispatch with Argentina twice and South Africa to comfortably retain the trophy. All eyes will be heading to the southern hemisphere for their remaining game against the Springbocks and another face-off against Australia in the Bledisloe Cup. England, Wales and Scotland will get another chance to push themselves against the very best when the All-Blacks come to the British Isles for their end of season tour.
That tour will give young rugby players a fine demonstration of the pace, power and precision of New Zealand. A type of rugby that is ingrained into all New Zealanders who play their national sport. During the coming months and in the World Cup in England itself we will all have the pleasure of seeing this team that has been refined over many years into a destructive winning machine. The electrifying speed of the backs, the commitment and strength of the forwards and the immaculate handling apparent through the side is enthralling to watch. Give them an opportunity and they will nearly always take it; if you put up strong resistance they will often still eventually find a way through, even against the meanest of defences.
Coming up against their wonderful style of play is always a test yet will continue to be beneficial for teams striving to compete with them. Indeed, whether you are a seasoned professional or a raw youngster finding your way in the game, there is always much to learn from coming against or simply watching the New Zealand way of rugby. That’s why so many players head there to play – from full internationals such as England’s James Haskell to the many aspiring players seeking to take their games to the next level. It is why Sport Lived run such superb full and mini season rugby programmes in the country, offering participants the chance to combine a memorable gap year with an enlightening rugby experience. If there is one place in you should want to go to play rugby in, it is in the nation of arguably the most successful sporting side in the world. The land of Carter, Nonu and the famous haka has it all – superb clubs, excellent facilities, an electrifying style and of course a wonderful attitude towards the game.
England could hardly have played better in their 20-15 and 28-27 defeats. Australia and South Africa couldn’t have done much more in their respective matches either. They at least showed that a side with a Test winning record of more than 75% can be pushed all the way. The bigger they are, the harder they fall – the problem is for their opponents is that it will take an awful lot to even get the All Blacks stumbling. They are confident, focused and devastatingly brilliant.
In the coming 12 months we are going to have many opportunities to drink in the New Zealand way of rugby, especially when they attempt to do what no team has done before by retaining the World Cup. New Zealand continue to inspire the world of rugby – use them as your motivation to go there to play the sport during a gap year with Sport Lived.
The All Blacks remain the ultimate force in the game; they are the team to beat both now and at next year’s World Cup. The count-down to their arrival on these shores is underway – you best be ready for it.