MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Boks and the Wallabies have the players and the game plan to beat the All Blacks in a one-off situation. But the All Blacks, possibly for the first time in a World Cup competition, have desperation as an ally.
New Zealand did not choke in Brisbane. Australia throttled them and there is a difference between blowing it and being blown away.
Australia blew away any New Zealand complacency but with it introduced perspective to what should be a fabulous World Cup. Any one of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand is good enough to win the World Cup. Forget the northern hemisphere challenge. Neither England nor France has a team with enough quality to succeed in New Zealand.
Australia can beat anyone home and away. South Africa, in a one-off situation, will always back their physicality, no risk approach and strong kicking game to win ugly and the All Blacks, at home, rarely get beaten.
There is a buzz about this World Cup because New Zealand, for the first time since the tournament’s inception, aren’t being put on a pedestal. And rightly so. They stand no taller than Australia and South Africa.
The All Blacks, at full strength, are a fantastic side and in terms of consistency they are the best team in the world. But Australia and South Africa have the players and the game plan to beat the All Blacks in a one-off situation if they get it right mentally and the All Blacks aren’t quite as desperate.
The Boks in Port Elizabeth and the Wallabies in Brisbane delighted in being desperate. Both physically beat up the All Blacks. Both deserved the respective victories. New Zealand’s World Cup squad, all of who played in Port Elizabeth and Brisbane, looked vulnerable and mortal.
The All Blacks, should they win a World Cup for the first time in 24 years, will have to play to the maximum of each player’s ability. If they don’t win it a better team will have downed them. This All Blacks team isn’t good enough to carry the tag of choker into the World Cup. Don’t be surprised if they win the tournament at home, but equally don’t be surprised if they don’t.
Surely that’s a wonderful thing for any sport and any global showpiece event, like a World Cup. No one knows for sure who will win this World Cup and that’s just bloody brilliant.
The Wallabies were outstanding in beating the Boks in Durban and they were sensational in the opening 40 against the All Blacks in Brisbane. The Reds, in winning Super Rugby, were equally impressive.
The core form players of the year have come out of Brisbane and Super Rugby success has been translated into Tri-Nation’s silverware.
Desperation, however, is what wins World Cups. Desperation is what the All Blacks had at Eden Park in 2010 when they hammered the Boks 32-12. Desperation is what the All Blacks had at Eden Park a month ago when they were brutal in winning 30-14 against the Wallabies.
Those two New Zealand wins in Auckland are as significant as the Wallabies two recent successes against South Africa and New Zealand and the Boks win against the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth. It showed that a desperate All Blacks team is far more of a threat than one believing of its own press and the notion that it is a god given right New Zealand should win Rugby World Cups.
The pressure will never be off New Zealand to win a Test match, let alone a World Cup tournament, but for possibly the first time ever the expectation is measured with realism that the All Blacks must earn the right to win this tournament through a series of performances within the tournament.
Australia, because of form and recent history, have the momentum and the Springboks, because of their World Cup history, will command respect. But the All Blacks have it all to do at the tournament because they have always done it in between tournaments.
South Africa, in Port Elizabeth, exposed New Zealand’s lack of Test quality depth in areas like tighthead prop, loose forward and flyhalf. Australia reinforced the view in Brisbane, especially the ability of flanker Adam Thomson who has never been good enough to make an impact for the All Blacks.
Reds coach Ewe McKenzie was annoyed on the eve of this year’s Super Rugby final in Brisbane when the bookmakers and media made the Crusaders favorites to win comfortably.
‘How?’ asked McKenzie before reminding people his players were the favorites because of form, home ground advantage and confidence taken from beating the Saders earlier in the season?
The same logic was applied to Saturday’s result. Why was home ground advantage and the Wallabies win in South Africa against a full-strength Bok team so easily dismissed when making the All Blacks favorites?
New Zealand are not as good as everyone thinks and Australia and South Africa are better than everyone thinks.
Australia’s win in Brisbane was not a shock but a reminder of the strengths of one team and the mortality of another whose players looked more like bemused penguins in the first 40 minutes than potential World Cup winners.