World Cup Preview: New Zealand

Group A Opposition: France, Tonga, Japan, Canada

Pedigree: Won first time out at home in 87, but didn’t win in 95, 03 and 07 despite being the best team in the tournament. Not good enough. Repeated buckling under pressure has meant its squeaky-bum time already in NZ – the latest worry is that the Crusaders only got all the way to the final of the Super XV despite playing no home games, but didn’t win. Panic stations!

Players to watch: Were do we start? The best scrum in rugby, the most exciting young lock in the world (Sam Whitelock), a frenetic back row including a man who is allowed to enter rucks from anywhere (all joking aside, McCaw plays the referee better than any other captain around), the best outhalf in history, three outstanding centres, and strike backs so good Dougie Howlett wouldn’t get near the team. We’ll be leaning back and appreciating the brilliance of Dan Carter, the insouciant genius of SBW, and young Israel Dagg – a potential superstar.

Good Tournament: They must win every match, preferably with lots of tries. No pressure then.

Bad Tournament: With the way they have been playing, not winning the tournament would constitute an absolute disaster.

Prospects: Since 1995, they have specialized in peaking between tournaments. After 2007, they took a deep breath, sent apparent heir-apparent Robbie Deans to the then hapless Wallabies and persevered with Smiler Henry. Luckily, he has raised them to even greater heights, helped by a production line of simply fantastic players. Post-2009 rule changes have played right into their hands, and with a team full of brilliant support runners and intelligent footballers, they have only been beaten once since June 2009, and that was a perfect storm of Aussie brilliance and Stephen Donald (since banished for his crimes) ineptitude.

Writing pre-Tri-Nations, there is ample opportunity for us to look foolish, but we can’t see them losing another match this year. The pressure is becoming unbearable, but the last 4 years has been all about building a team so good that, even if they choke, they will win anyway. The focus, intensity and hunger of this team are top notch, and the age profile looks ideal.

We foresee 4 wins in the group stages by 40+ points (including over a French B team wearing an ill-conceived NZ-goading shirt), a quarter-final stroll over Argentina or Scotland, a swatting aside of the Boks or Ireland in the semis then finally getting a game in the final, but still overcoming the Wallabies by 15 points or so. The fact they are still close to even money is a reflection of the choke premium, but at home, they aren’t going to come close to losing a match. Richie doesn’t even need to commit breakdown murder for them to stroll home. But he will anyway.

Verdict: Champions at last.

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7 Comments

  1. Anyone have a picture of this new French jersey?

  2. See here:http://www.footballkitnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/New-France-Rugby-Jersey-2011-2012-Home.jpgTop half is the colour they wore when they beat NZ in 1999, bottom half is the colour they wore when they beat them in 2007!

  3. Brilliant – it's getting real now! Really looking forward to this series.We've got to be confident going into this tournament. However, we feel like this every 4 years, supposedly the lessons from 2007 have been learned as they have supposedly been after every cup since 1991. Not sure if that will mean anything – as we learned in Cardiff sometimes it just doesn't go our way (also, drop goals are not the fruit of the devil). This time around you've got to believe it will work out – home advantage will surely give us the edge we need.Watching the Crusaders get beat last month was a timely dose of the reality of sport for many NZ rugby fans – hopefully if the unimaginable happens again then my fellow countrymen and women won't disgrace themselves as we might have been prone to doing in the past.I can't wait to get back home for this – it's shaping up to be a great tournament. Probably the last time we'll host it so I'm hopeful it'll all go great!

  4. Although NZ have the best rugby team in the World Cup if the unthinkable were to happen and Dan Carter were to get injured it will throw the whole competition wide open. It is perhaps Henrys only failing since 07 that he has not given any back up 10 any worthwhile gametime in major test matches. Yes Donald got 15 minutes here and there but no one was put into the situation, for example, where they needed to put the All Blacks in field position when they were a score down away to South Africa. It is a dangerous game the coaching ticket have played and knowing New Zealands luck in World Cups Carter will pull a hammy with 15 to go in the semi final with the Boks leading by 4!

  5. Its a fair point – Carter aside, the half-backs are average. Slade should get more game time this Tri-Nations, but they are dependent on Carter.Evans would be in the squad I imagine if he were playing in the SH, but Donald is pretty average and Cruden is probably too small.Still, SA won the last one with Butch James in the slot – surely whoever took over from Carter could live up to that!

  6. I think the criticism of the all blacks being heavily dependant on Carter is slightly unfair, albeit true. Any team with a player of that quality would be dependant on him and would want him to play in any meaningful match (no offence to the Scotland’s of this world). I think the real problem is that the all blacks are a victim of their own success in this regard. Any match which they think will be tight, they will obviously play Carter. For any other match which they know they will win and play another outhalf they inevitably end up winning by a large margin due to the quality around them in the back division. True, Henry should maybe have bitten the bullet and risked playing the likes of Donald in bigger matches with the risk of losing but given the pressure he is under in the job (the kiwi public would not accept a defeat whatever the circumstances) it is understandable why he did not.

  7. @Chris – loving your excitement for the tournament. As someone who's heading down to see it, I too cannot wait for it to start.@Everyone else – for me the biggest barrier for NZ is not so much losing Carter but the fact that they not only have to beat the opposition, but the heavy weight of history that hangs on their shoulders! That said, they're so good even if they get edgy I fancy them to do it.

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