All Blacks reign outside World Cups
The Test season for 2008 has closed, and one poor game in Cardiff last October has not dethroned New Zealand from the summit of world rugby. The results we have seen this year is a form of savage redemption for the All Black faithful.
It is insulting to World Rugby, and to New Zealand to state “best between World Cups”, for that would indicate that no other rugby except the William Webb Ellis Trophy is significant.
But since 2003, the All Blacks have been unchallenged as the form team of World Rugby – being only bettered by England in 2003 and South Africa in 2007.
In this time, the All Blacks have recorded at least ten wins a season, and this year recorded a magical thirteen wins, the best in a non World Cup calendar year.
In this six year period, New Zealand has only tasted defeat ten times; have never lost the Bledisloe; held the Tri Nations five times; recorded two Grand Slams; and only twice lost to the Northern Hemisphere teams.
However, in the same epoch, a World Cup has twice been up for grabs, and New Zealand has fallen, for a myriad of reasons, on the grandest of rugby stages.
Indeed, the All Blacks have now effectively lost – or choked – in their last three World Cups.
The paramount achievement of both the coaching staff and the All Blacks in 2008 is that, for the first time in years, we are seeing a systematic ironing out of weak points in the on-field character, mindset and positional roles of the team.
There has been no real consternation this year. Every single position has a number one ranked player, and although second fifteen depth is not as strong as recent years, there are options behind the incumbents.
Despite the ocular appearance of the top team, Henry has still ensured that the fringe players have been exposed.
This will make such men far stronger in next year’s Super 14.
We also have seen the chronic problem position of New Zealand rugby fixed, with both Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui both world class outside centres.
But it is the mentality and plan of the All Blacks that has matured unlike ever before. We no longer see the All Blacks endeavouring to strike a killer punch early, but instead absorb punishment before counter striking with menacing efficiency.
Emancipation of the sins a year past has been achieved. Now the sole challenge for this young team (only Brad Thorn is over 30), is to stay at the zenith.
The best team in the world they may be, but greatness will elude the All Blacks until they take back the only Trophy they have not claimed since 1991.
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