Don’t put it down to the luck of the Irish, the world’s No. 1 team are more than deserving of the ‘favourites’ tag ahead of this year’s Rugby World Cup in France.
Ireland were the world’s top ranked side for two weeks ahead of the sport’s most prestigious event four years ago in Japan, but this feels different.
While their semi-final curse remains unbroken, Ireland’s convincing win over rivals France in the Six Nations weekend has reaffirmed the greatness this team possesses.
History beckons, should they be good enough to take it.
Meanwhile, the All Blacks will go into this year’s World Cup as one of the favourites, but certainly not the favourite.
It doesn’t happen often; in many ways it never has at a Rugby World Cup before, but the All Blacks will be playing without the pressure and expectation of being the best.
Following a lacklustre start to their 2022 season, which included two losses to Ireland, former Test halfback Justin Marshall believes the All Blacks are ready to “ambush” this year’s World Cup.
“When you look at the current state of the game at the moment, the All Blacks are by no means standing out as better than any of the other sides,” Marshall told The Platform.
“On any given day, probably the top four teams in the world could beat the All Blacks, and they’ve shown that in the last two years.
“There’s nothing secret about that, that’s just statistically has happened.
“In my mind, I feel that that pressure has been alleviated, now it’s just about the ambition to play.
“It’s just whether or not the All Blacks can come out of their shell and be the side we know they can be, and not worry about the fact that they’re a side that’s under pressure.
“I don’t feel that the pressure come September, October, will be on them; definitely gonna be on France, the home nation… and certainly it will be on Ireland.
“It’s an opportunity for the All Blacks to change the way they’re playing, to show the rest of the world something different, start playing to our strengths, and produce the type of rugby the rest of the world hasn’t seen then play in a couple of years.
“That’s their opportunity to ambush that Rugby World Cup.”
The All Blacks’ path to World Cup glory is far from straightforward.
New Zealand have been drawn in Pool A along with World No. 2 France, who are hosting the tournament.
Ian Fosters team will have to overcome the vibrant home crowd in the tournaments opening match, as they search for a convincing building win over another genuine contender.
From there, should they make the quarterfinals, the All Blacks will probably have to face either South Africa, Ireland or Scotland.
This World Cup promises to be the most exciting and competitive tournament yet.
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