Not many international sports teams have dominated their sport in the way that New Zealand have dominated rugby union. The All Blacks are a symbol of sporting power and international success on the biggest stage. Simply put, you expect them to win every time they take to the field, whoever the opposition may be.
This appreciation of the All Blacks’ power has never been more prominent than in the early stages of the ongoing 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. They were, of course, favourites to retain their title in the rugby world cup 2019 odds in the lead-up to the tournament. So far, they have delivered on those expectations in their usual dominant style.
Their first match against South Africa posed the biggest challenge, but New Zealand seized control of the game early on to secure a 23-13 victory over another tournament contender. Further wins against Canada and Namibia represented strolls in the park, with the All Blacks’ opposition failing to score a try in either match – although at least Namibia managed to get some points on the board, unlike Canada.
But what is it that makes New Zealand such an imposing, formidable force in international rugby? For one, the history of the team and the subsequent aura of success that surrounds them has a psychological effect on other teams. The term ‘All Blacks’ is synonymous with success, domination, and victory. When teams come up against New Zealand, they are battling their own self-doubt as well as their opponents.
The traditional ‘Haka’ performed by New Zealand before every match adds to this sense of intimidation. Defeating the All Blacks represents a monumental achievement to all other international sides, and so their opponents are battling that sense of occasion, and the added pressure that comes with it.
New Zealand came into this Rugby World Cup having won the past two editions of the competition – in 2011 when they hosted the event and in 2015. They have won their last 17 world cup matches, including this year’s tournament – a run that stretches back to their quarter-final defeat to France in 2007. That undefeated run in world cups presents another psychological hurdle for opponents to overcome.
Then there is the sheer quality of New Zealand’s playing squad. Captain Kieran Read boasts a wealth of experience in the number eight position, having earned over 120 caps for his country. Richie Mo’unga is a key creative influence in the back line, and although he is relatively new to the team, he will have a big part to play if the All Blacks are to make it three consecutive World Cup victories.
Beauden Barrett has become an important figure for the All Blacks over the last couple of years and scored the final try in the 2015 world cup final. His journey from a young prospect to an established international player is evidence of New Zealand’s continual nurturing of talented young players.
New Zealand ooze quality in every area of the pitch, and that is why they are such a daunting opponent to face. But they are not unbeatable. Their relatively poor showing in the Rugby Championship earlier this year was evidence that perhaps there are some cracks to be exploited.
They surprisingly lost to Australia, and also drew with South Africa, which led to a disappointing third-place finish. However, there is a sense that that underachievement has only reinforced the All Blacks’ desire to win this World Cup, that it was something of a wake-up call.
Their recent victory over South Africa was a sign of this ability to vanquish the ghosts of previous failures and start afresh. This winning mentality is one that has defined rugby in New Zealand for decades, and it’s going to take a monumental effort to prise the world cup out of their grasp.