16 Sep 2019

Rugby World Cup: All Blacks favourites but Japan is wide open

10:26 am on 16 September 2019

This year's Rugby World Cup should be the most fiercely fought yet, with half a dozen teams a genuine chance of usurping the All Blacks from their throne.

T J Perenara says the All Blacks are focused on avenging their surprise loss to the Springboks and won't be basking in another Rugby Championship success.

The All Blacks haka. Photo: Photosport

New Zealand may be the kings of world rugby but they're not top dog anymore - Ireland goes into this month's world cup as the world number one.

The team that beat the All Blacks in Ireland for the first time last November are one of six sides that could challenge the defending champions in Japan, though their coach, New Zealander Joe Schmidt, said the number one ranking means diddly squat.

"It's a nice label to get and it's a nice first time that we've been in that position. We have been lucky enough to tick a few firsts off with this group over the last six and a half years, but that label (World No.1) is not going to be relevant to anyone.

"We all know who the favourites are for the Rugby World Cup (All Blacks) and it's not us haha."

Schmidt has reason to be coy. Ireland has yet to make it past the quarterfinals at a world cup.

Their fans and media expect big things this time around, how they cope with that pressure will determine their success.

Under Armour Summer Series, Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales 31/8/2019
Wales vs Ireland
The Ireland team huddle after the game
Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Ireland head into the Rugby World Cup as the number one side in the world. Photo: © INPHO 2018 / Dan Sheridan / Photosport

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes this is where his side have an edge.

"Every tournament we've gone there as the favourites, been told we're the favourites and we're expected to win the thing and that's my point about the other teams. They're now being told they're going to win it.

"There's a lot of pressure on everybody now. We enjoy walking towards that kind of pressure and the other teams will have to carry it a bit too which will be good."

While Hansen said that pressure is something only a few teams are familiar with, he believes this is the most competitive world cup in history.

"There's five or six teams that deep down they honestly believe they can win. In previous World Cups there's only been two or three teams that believed it.

"Things will happen that we don't expect to happen. Every team will get the same amount of luck, good and bad, and it's what you do in that moment and how you deal with it, both positively and negatively, that will make the difference."

South Africa, Australia, England and Wales are also capable of derailing the All Blacks title hopes, with England and South Africa likely to be the biggest threats.

Six Nations champions Wales are bullish about their chances, as is their New Zealand coach Warren Gatland.

"I think our team's good enough to win. The depth of the squad and the difficult selection decisions we've made is a sign of the preparation that's gone into the last three or four years. We're going to Japan with a lot of self belief and a lot of confidence."

Alun Wyn Jones lifts the Six Nations Championship trophy and Jonathan Davies raises the Triple Crown. 2019.

2019 Six Nations champions Wales. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

While those teams are backing themselves more than ever, the All Blacks are still favourites. If they take the title, they'll also make history. No country has won three World Cups in a row.

Former All Black Christian Cullen is confident the current crop will get the job done, but he concedes the All Blacks' aura of invincibility is a thing of the past.

"The All Blacks will be favourites but we've seen over the last few years that if a team gets it right, like Australia in Perth this year, or South Africa and Ireland in 2018 did, they can burn the All Blacks.

"If the All Blacks play as well as they can they should win but if one of those other five or six teams gets it right on the day and the All Blacks are off, you don't get a second chance at a quarterfinal or semi."

Cullen knows that all too well. His team were dumped out by France at the 1999 tournament. While none of the current All Blacks have ever tasted defeat at a world cup, they know anything other than a third straight crown will be a failure.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.