December 11, 2023

The All Blacks have been pretty ordinary but now will win the World Cup

The All Blacks have been pretty ordinary but now will win the World Cup

Who among us hasn’t written off the All Blacks over the last four years?

Who hasn’t commented on the competence of the coaching staff or expressed reservations about the prowess of the players? Who hasn’t criticised our playing methods or the New Zealand pathway from schools, to provincial and Super Rugby?

Is there anyone who hasn’t suggested that the rest of the world isn’t playing a better, more effective brand of footy than us?

And yet, in a few days’ time, the All Blacks are likely to be crowned Rugby World Cup champions.

I reckon it’s because we care that we criticise. I suspect that if we just worshipped the ground the team walks on, that they wouldn’t ever improve.

I’m not sure any of us honestly saw this day coming – particularly after the loss to South Africa at Twickenham and first-up pool stage defeat to France – but here we are.

The All Blacks have enjoyed a comparatively easy ride to get to this point, the Springboks have not and that’ll be telling come the final.

I’m not sure South Africa can rouse themselves one last time and assume that New Zealand will have that extra bit of skill and talent to take advantage of what opportunities arise.

I still can’t quite believe this situation, but then we’ve been on the opposite end of it plenty of times before.

The knock on All Black teams between 1987 and 2011 was that they couldn’t front at the Rugby World Cup.

Sure, they were often exceptional between tournaments, but basically choked when it counted.

The team has done it a different way this time. I very much doubt that’s by design, but it doesn’t alter the outcome.

I still retain reservations about the solidity of the All Blacks’ set pieces, I still reckon their loose trio is only adequate and that Richie Mo’unga is yet to fully command the world stage from first five-eighth.

I remain a Beauden Barrett enthusiast, but I accept many folk continue to argue Will Jordan would be a better bet at fullback. Others have reservations about Rieko Ioane’s suitability as a centre.

But, as I said before, here we are. On the brink of glory.

To me, this is the beauty of sport. It’s why, as they say in the classics, they play the games.

Betting odds are just that. Form is largely illusory. We buy our tickets and tune in to watch games partly because we can never be absolutely certain of the result.

As I wrote last week, I don’t believe a world cup win necessarily changes the narrative around these All Blacks. I think they have been pretty ordinary for years now and I can’t help but think that the success of this campaign owes more to good luck than good management.

Lord knows I’ll never be accused of being an All Blacks cheerleader, but I can’t see any other result in this final than a win to New Zealand by 10 to 12 points.

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