We are barely a week away from the biggest sporting event to be held on New Zealand shores, since probably the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.
And for the umpteenth time, the All Blacks are once again odds-on favourites to take out the World Cup – especially on their home ground. However, bar 1987 – the inaugural competition, the million dollar question continues as to why do the All Blacks choke at World Cup tournaments ?
Seldom are there sufficient answers to comprehend the underlying appearance of those losses during the latter stages of World Cup rugby, from way back in 1991, right up to 2007. Sustained pressure is obviously ‘enemy territory’ in the All Blacks’ case, compared to the self-belief that perhaps go missing too often when it is needed the most.
Australians are a prime example of rising to the occasion with their hard-edged mental toughness and downright sheer determination, hence the remarkable results of many of their sporting individuals’ and teams’ success. That fantastic Aussie spirit should never be under-estimated.
Curiously though, if the All Blacks have been so good for so long, why is it, that they fold on the big stage when they are in fact, the biggest stage themselves? Quite literally, it just doesn’t make sense.
But if history is anything to go by, indeed it may be comforting to recognise that the last time the All Blacks reigned supreme, was exactly where they are now, back to where it all began, in the land otherwise passionately known as a ‘Slice of Heaven’.
Surprisingly, take the 2007 group which was amongst one of the greatest squads in New Zealand history, yet incredibly, they performed their worst-ever efforts, bowing out in the quarter finals – albeit in controversial circumstances.
The All Blacks remains the only nation to have never lost a Pool game, although six World Cup tournaments later, only once have they managed to engrave New Zealand on the William Webb Ellis Cup. A pitiful profit considering their total domination.
Plenty had been said leading up to Rugby World Cup 2011, and certainly plenty of stunning results had ensued be it Super XV, Top 14, Six Nations, Heinekin Cup, Tri Nations or warm-up games going on elsewhere in other parts of the world.
In a nutshell, we all now know that it is undoubtedly not a one-horse race, as many observers had attempted to make out it would be. After demolishing a Springboks reserve grade to oblivion in kick-starting their Tri-Nations campaign, the All Blacks put on a masterful demonstration a week later when they blew the Wallabies off the pristine turf of Eden Park.
Suddenly, a complete role reversal immediately followed when the All Blacks travelled away from their homeland, suffering a dreadful loss to a fired-up South African outfit at full strength, only to realise a psychological blow when the Wallabies put them in their place on the return trip via Brisbane.
Unfortunately, it has been a real concern to see some uncharacteristic behaviours stemming from the NZRU domain.
For the coaches to be talking up their chances and getting ahead of themselves, openly expressing how they want to win this, win that, etc, is it any wonder why the players have consequently played accordingly, with far too much expectations on them?
Add in the adidas fiasco, the Telecom stupidity, not to mention the sponsorship stand-off involving our newest All Black sensation, who now supposedly want out?
If it’s not difficult enough regarding team selection process, the All Blacks coaches are under a lot of pressure to pick up the pieces after back-to-back losses, and to rejuvenate the side, or to borrow a Jessie Owens, Ayrton Senna or Phar Lap classic, bringing them home strong on the straight.
Just a thought on the World Cup squad, I personally couldn’t understand the non-selection of powerful winger Hosea Gear.
You don’t become the “best winger in the world” – as Graham Henry himself stated hardly a year ago – to virtually unwanted. For mine, Gear, Liam Messam and Wyatt Crockett were more ‘Probables’, than the lucky ‘Possibles’ Zac Guildford, Adam Thomson and an injury-laden Tony Woodcock.
But what’s done is done, and the time has come for New Zealand as a whole, to get right behind our team and wish them well, because put simply, that is all we can do.
GO THE ALL BLACKS.