When a team dominates a sport followers of other sides can come to loathe their superiority; true appreciation blurred by their green tinted spectacles. That could not be farther from the case for the All Blacks, for whom the levels of rugby-fan admiration have risen yet further. Richie Mccaw’s New Zealand came in to the 2015 Rugby World Cup as the planets number 1 team and the outright favourites yet they still had to deliver – and boy did they. After perhaps the best World Cup in history, they became the first side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup three times and the first to win back-to-back World Cups. Here are the five main reasons behind their phenomenal 2015 World Cup success.
Step up and deliver
Great players are able to perform when the pressure and significance is at its highest and New Zealand have a number who did just that. Captain Ritchie McCaw’s leadership of his side throughout the tournament was as brilliant as it was predictable, whilst the way fellow 100 cap man Ma’a Nonu scored his individual try in the 34-17 final win against Australia showed the enduring quality. Dan Carter is perhaps the greatest fly half the game has ever seen and during this rugby festival was every bit a man with over 1,000 test points. His man of the match performance in the final and award as the World Player of the Year award was a fitting international send-off. Like Carter and Nonu, this was the last time Conrad Smith stepped out in the famous black shirt and he too was a beacon of class at this World Cup from start to finish. Other senior players such as Keven Mealamu and Kieran Reed were also as supremely reliable as ever. When leaders set and meet such impressive levels, it is inevitable the other talented squad members are so inspired to follow.
The right mentality
It is not just individual and collective talent that has enabled this New Zealand team to lose only 3 of their 54 matches under coach Steve Hanson. A fundamental element is the understanding of what it means to be an All Black and what is expected of you. As a coaching unit and as a team, there are no excuses and no outs. You are simply expected to do the job to the best of your ability. They are clearly confident in their wonderful abilities but are at the same time humble enough to accept that they are not the finished product. This means that as a group they are constantly driven to improve and never complacent. They know what they are capable of and what is required to push themselves to an even higher level. This attitude on the pitch and in training meant that when the going did get tough, they were able to quickly pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again. Their focus and fine judgement never showed even the slightest sign of deterioration. So much of top level sport is about having the right character and mental strength. This New Zealand team showed they had it in abundance. As summed up by Hanson, ‘We don’t have a lot of rules but we do have a lot of expectations. If people aren’t living up to those expectations we’ll tell them.’
Not a one-trick pony
We all know of New Zealand’s ability to play exciting, fast and often jaw-dropping attacking rugby. It is what has helped to define this particular team as the best the game has had and arguably the greatest sporting team of any code on in the world right now. However, their 2015 triumph was also down to their capacity to adapt, battle and grind it out when necessary. Think of how, when down to 14 men, they were able to stem the momentum building for Australia in the final after the Wallabies had scored two quick tries. They slowed the game down and cut out the unforced errors, demonstrating terrific game management. In the semi-final against South Africa, they were rattled in difficult conditions, trailing 12-7 at half-time. Yet in the second half they dug deep, got the basics right and showed the necessary quality to scrap their way to an ultimately deserved 20-18 win. Their composure is incomparable. Whether it was due to the conditions, the opponents or the match context they showed the capability to change it up in order to keep the winning machine running smoothly.
Into their stride
The importance of gaining momentum and form as a tournament progresses is well known. Yet knowing it is one thing, achieving it is far more challenging. This All Black side may not have had the most difficult of groups to navigate but by the time of the final the initial jog had turned into a full blown sprint. They almost played within themselves in their group matches, using training sessions to prepare for the quarter-finals and, apart from the opening half against South Africa, they were always in control. A one way train to World Cup glory that no one was capable of delaying let alone de-railing.
The Perfect Blend
It was clear during the tournament that New Zealand had the ideal blend of experience and youth. A core of senior players was kept on it toes by younger, prestigious talent which was itself eager to impress those older heads. The likes of Beauden Barrett, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Julian Savea and Sam Cane again proved themselves worthy of following in the great footsteps of McCaw and co. This World Cup showed that the New Zealand conveyor belt of new talent is as effective as ever. The strength in depth of their squad in all areas, and the nature of a unit formed by a potent combination of hard-earned experience and youthful exuberance, were significant factors in this ultimate fulfilment of potential.
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