December 14th, 2010
02:02 PM ET

Can the All Blacks shed 'World Cup chokers' tag?

New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will seek to make up for his 2007 World Cup disappointment. (AFP/Getty Images)
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw will seek to make up for his 2007 World Cup disappointment. (AFP/Getty Images)

CNN's World Sport will be broadcasting its predictions for 2011 in upcoming shows between December 31-January 2. In the second of a series of preview blogs, Alex Thomas takes a look at the contenders for next year's Rugby World Cup.

After nearly two and a half decades of being both the planet’s best rugby side and its biggest chokers, New Zealand will finally banish their demons and be crowned world champions on home soil in October.

The All Blacks have been the team to beat for far longer than a quarter of a century, but it wasn’t until 1987 that rugby union’s first World Cup was staged. Suddenly, the sport’s leading side was determined by a single tournament instead of dominance over a period of time.

The change in focus seemed to suit the Kiwis. They won that opening World Cup and reached the final again eight years later. However, they lost a titanic title showdown against South Africa in 1995 and haven’t gone beyond the semifinals since then.

Consistent but also hugely anti-climactic for a nation which, despite a population of less than five million, expects and demands to have the world’s top rugby side. Sometimes, confidence in the superiority of its team can border on arrogance.

At the last World Cup in France in 2007, New Zealand’s tourist board built a temporary office shaped like a giant rugby ball underneath the Eiffel Tower. The thinking was sound - start selling trips for the next World Cup as the country’s rugby team powered to victory in the current one.

The only snag was that the office did not open until just before the semifinals - and a day after the All Blacks were knocked out by France at the quarterfinal stage, their worst World Cup result.

Which is not to say that New Zealand are serial World Cup underachievers. They have still won more matches and scored more points and more tries than any other country in the tournament’s history.

They will almost certainly start the competition as favorites, and I am backing the All Blacks to use home advantage as an inspiration, not a weight that will drag down their performances.

While players of the quality of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter will not have it all their own way, it is hard to make a convincing case for any of New Zealand’s rivals.

On any given day they could be beaten, for example, by England, Australia, South Africa or France. However, all of those teams have shown more frailties than the All Blacks over the last 12 months.

There will still be surprises at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and they may be sprung by the teams from the Pacific Islands. Samoa’s players told me it will feel like a home tournament to them as well, while Fiji and Tonga should also benefit from strong support.

This prediction game can be a tricky one, but if you believe that sport rewards hard work and talent, it’s impossible to look beyond New Zealand as 2011's world rugby champions.

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Filed under:  Rugby
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Frank

    Although the Boks made a real mess of their Tri-Nations tournament, they had by far the better 30 players in the Super 14, just prior to the Tri-Nations, which one tend to forget. The Boks are the guys for the great occasion, bar all their current injuries....... and of course their dearest coach'es influence and "strategies".......

    December 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  2. Frank

    O, and yes, Alex. What happened during last years Tri Nations. The Boks beat the All Blacks twice in their own backyard. Twice because they only played two games there. Eisch!!

    December 14, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  3. Lucas Carr

    Might add that the allblacks were poisoned by south african chefs at the 1995 wc, I can't make an excuse for the other failed attempts, home ground advantage goes along way but im putting my money on swaziland!

    December 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  4. Pete

    They are, quite simply, always the team to beat. I am English and know that for any team to beat the All Blacks they have to be nearly twice as good simply due to the passion with which the Balcks play the game. The South Africans are nor far behind. Even if the rest of the world catch up with the kiwis as far as skill is concerened, they still have a way to go. Oh for the same passion to be displayed by our lot – (having said that, much more evidence of its appearance of late.)

    December 14, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  5. MIke

    As Frank says you can never discount the Boks. Though historically not quite (but the closest out of anyone) as successful as the Blacks, the Boks are big game players. To a lesser degree the same can be said of the Aussies.
    But any of the top 5 could turn around and grow from now until the Cup into a winning team.
    All that said the All Blacks need to win on home turf which is a huge advantage for them or I fear the NZ public may throw in the towel.
    The way the draw has been done with France in the same pool as the ABs, on home turf and with a pretty solid team it is now or never
    Don't choke, please!

    December 14, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  6. Frank

    Hopefully, it should once again be a worldclass spectacle with rugby the eventual winner! Just hope all the teams will be able to field (all) their best and most able players.

    December 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  7. John

    I'm Australian... therefore cannot comment.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  8. Jeff

    The All Blacks are consistently the benchmark by which other teams measure themselves. Wait unitl players like Israel Dagg get more time on the field. The AB's are the Brazil of rugby – they love to play with creativity and power. Yes the Springboks are good, but they lack the finesse of the All Blacks.

    December 14, 2010 at 7:07 pm | Reply
  9. tuffymacca

    I find it absurd & nonsensical to suggest that NZ lost the 1995 rugby world cup final to the Springboks due to poisoning by a SA Chef.This assertion shld be treated with the utmost contempt.If they were indeed poisoned they wldnt have taken to the field later alone play full time & extra time.Kiwis are arrogant bad losers .They simpy lost to a superior Springboks in`95.The only way the rugby serial rugby chokers are going to win the William Webb Ellis is by hosting it just like in 1987.No doubt NZ PLAY expansive ,entertaining rugby.NZ cannot be termed the Brazil of rugby coz they have only won one world cup yet Brazil have won the FIFA WORLD CUP 5 TIMES.Hail the 2 time world champions --Springboks minus their crazy coach.

    December 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm | Reply

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