15 Oct 2015

Are the All Blacks good enough to go back-to-back?

2:50 pm on 15 October 2015

OPINION: As the nation lathers itself into a frenzy over whether the ghosts of World Cups past will come back to haunt the All Blacks, let's stop and think... do the All Blacks deserve to win the World Cup, and become the first team to win back-to-back titles?

All Blacks RWC 2015 haka

All Blacks RWC 2015 haka Photo: Photosport

This All Black team is a good team, but not a great team.

Yes, it has some great players in it. Richie McCaw and Dan Carter without doubt rank among legendary All Blacks, but they are not the players they once were. They simply can't be, as age catches up with them.

Despite that though, they would still be the first names I would pencil in for the starting XV.

Sam Cane is still not at the point of being able to displace McCaw, and the same for Beauden Barrett when it comes to Carter at first-five. Had Aaron Cruden been fit he would have pipped Carter, possibly, but it's a moot point. We're dealing with who's available to take the field.

Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw aren't the players they were a few years ago.

Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw aren't the players they were a few years ago. Photo: Photosport

McCaw's fellow loose forwards Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read are hardly at their best either.

Kaino, by his own admission, is not the force he was at the 2011 tournament, and Read - the 2013 World Player of the Year - is some way off that form too.

All Black flanker Jerome Kaino.

By his own admission Jerome Kaino is not at his best. Photo: Photosport

The front row is competent but hardly a powerhouse. The All Blacks' scrum has hardly been a dominant force on the international scene for a couple of years now.

And as we are continually reminded, 'it's the platform up front' that controls a match.

Okay, by now you may feel I am writing the All Blacks off, and trying to prepare you for a quarter-final departure.

But far from it. I think the All Blacks will make the final, and are certainly capable of winning the tournament - for their opposition is far from daunting.

This World Cup has not been a great exhibition for rugby.

No team sits head and shoulders above the rest and clearly better than anyone else.

There's been much talk about Australia being the form team of the tournament.

That would be the Australian side that beat a woeful England line-up and then struggled past an injury-ravaged Welsh team, with neither side scoring a try?

South Africa beaten by Japan, a team that managed to win three of their four pool games, but still narrowly missed out on advancing to the knockout rounds.

This is one of the more even Rugby World Cups there has been. That quite possibly is a good thing. But again, it shows no nation stands out. No team appears to have found a key ingredient that can elevate them above the rest.

The rugby world is not holding its breath each time a particular team takes the field knowing they are going to see a spectacle. Think back to the 1995 World Cup and the way the All Blacks were without doubt the best team at the tournament. Of course they didn't win, but they way they played the game left an indelible mark on World Cup history.

The performances of the some of the tier two nations has been the major point of difference at this tournament to previous ones.

Japan's win over South Africa was a standout and highlights the improvements countries they, along with the likes of Georgia, have made.

Japan celebrates victory over the Springboks.

Japan celebrates victory over the Springboks. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

All Blacks prop Ben Franks made a telling comment after their win over Georgia.

With many of the players from the tier two nations now playing professionally, they improved technically. That hasn't, however, reduced the expectation that the big nations will post cricket scores against them.

Franks said, at the back of players minds, they still think they are going to wrack up 100 points plus - and when things don't work out that way, teams tend to lose their shape. They move away from their game plan and the match becomes even more disjointed.

There have been the underachievers too, England the biggest of all and they now enjoy the dubious honour of being the first host nation to fail to reach the quarter-finals.

The Pacific nations too were disappointing. Fiji, Samoa and Tonga all failed to finish inside the top three in their groups, which would have given them automatic qualification for the 2019 tournament in Japan.

Perhaps the sudden death phase of the tournament will in fact bring it to life.

Of the eight quarter-finalists, seven can justifiably believe they have a chance of making the final... sorry Scotland.

Injury and the judiciary though have certainly taken a toll on Ireland and Wales.

A colleague passed the comment that he still sees the All Blacks winning, "simply because they are no worse than anyone else."

Hardly a ringing endorsement. I see it more along the lines of they should win simply because there is no team better than them... but as we all know that's no guarantee.

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