Whether or not the upcoming Rugby World Cup lives up to its billing as the third biggest sporting event on the planet, the All Blacks know this is their big chance to prove they truly are the greatest.
Despite winning the inaugural tournament on home soil back in 1987, New Zealand left their supremacy open to question for more than 30 years when they failed to recapture rugby union’s biggest prize in five subsequent attempts.
Only when the tournament returned to New Zealand four years ago did the All Blacks finally become world champions again. And it was far from convincing as they squeezed home by the narrowest of margins beating France 8-7 in the Final at Eden Park.
When the 2015 RWC gets under way on September 18, New Zealand will be expecting to reach the final on October 31st at Twickenham. Victory would make them the first nation to successfully defend the trophy. But this will be their biggest challenge yet because the All Blacks have never won the World Cup on foreign soil.
The truth is they have an incredibly strong squad and are more than capable of thrashing any challenger. With the likes of veteran Keven Mealamu, experienced fly-half Dan Carter and flanker Richie McCaw in the squad, the Kiwis have talent in abundance and have players to hurt opponents on both sides of the ball. Their aggressive style will ensure that they are fully committed in the tackle. While their sensational ball handling skills should mean that the All Blacks score plenty of tries throughout the tournament.
Nonetheless, even red hot favourites are vulnerable when they take opponents for granted and there are a number of teams with the talent to win the tournament if they hit their best form in the key matches. As they did when they last hosted the tournament in 1991, England certainly fancy their chances of reaching the Twickenham Final.
Rugby legend Jonathan Davies today insisted his beloved Wales have every chance of lifting the trophy. And never rule out two time winners South Africa and Australia. While Six Nations Champions Ireland have earned the right to be optimistic.
The All Blacks kick off their defence of the title against fellow Pool C contenders Argentina at Wembley. With Tonga, Georgia and Namibia completing the group, New Zealand already have one eye on their potential quarter-final opponents. No disrespect to the other four teams, but New Zealand are by far the best team in Pool C and even the All Blacks’ second string would probably power through to the knockout stages. The winner of Pool C will face the runner up in Pool D, which is likely to be France or Ireland next for the Kiwis.
So, can the All Blacks win this year’s competition and retain the title? Of course they can. New Zealand are in scintillating form and their players will be primed and ready for the tournament to get underway. If the Kiwis perform at their best, the title is theirs. In fact, it could even be argued that the competition is already theirs to lose – such is the raw natural talent of that New Zealand side.
As for the status of the upcoming tournament, World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper insists: “It is the third biggest global event of an international flavour.” The undisputed big two of course are the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup.
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