Sunday, September 02, 2007

RWC: How to beat the All Blacks

Long Spiro piece here, some excerpts, and a half-arsed excuse to post the Derby Council pics again.

Via Sydney Morning Herald's Rugby Heaven:

How to beat the All Blacks

by Spiro Zavos
Sydney Morning Herald
September 2, 2007

THE GOSPEL about the Rugby World Cup, according to Phil Kearns, a World Cup winner as a Wallaby and now an ebullient rugby commentator, is this: "If they play the World Cup for 1000 years, the All Blacks will always be favourites to win it."

Not win it, which has only happened once, but favourites to win it.

Perhaps 3007 is too far away for us to make predictions. For this year, though, Kearns is right. The All Blacks are favourites, according to the bookmakers. And it's a justifiable favouritism. In the four years since their 22-10 defeat in Sydney by the Wallabies in the semi-final of the 2003 World Cup, the All Blacks have played 43 Tests for 38 wins. This is one of the great winning streaks in world rugby. [...]

Kearns's comment about the perennial favouritism of the All Blacks to win the World Cup has, if I'm not mistaken, a hint of irony in it. For New Zealanders, Kearns suggests, the All Blacks will always be favourites to win the World Cup, even when they don't deserve to be.

And here we get to the heart of the strength and weakness of New Zealand rugby. The New Zealand rugby public always insists on a successful All Blacks side. Players and coaches know they have to succeed to survive. But the other side of the coin is that this success (a 74 per cent winning record in Tests since 1903, far and away the best in world rugby) comes at a cost. There is often an unrealistic pressure placed by the New Zealand public on the All Blacks to succeed.

This pressure in world cups since 1987 has fractured the All Blacks, rather than uplifted them. This is the origin of the "choking" allegation, that the All Blacks choke at world cups because the public expectations for the side are too high. [...]

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