The Rugby mad nation of New Zealand not only hosts this year’s Rugby World Cup but the 4 million strong population all expect the Webb Ellis trophy to remain on the island after the 23rd October.
Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand, is hugely popular where ever you go and many New Zealanders associate it with their national identity. It has the largest spectator following of all the sports and the All Blacks has the best winning record of any national team in the World and are currently ranked number one in the IRB rankings. The first ever World Cup took place in New Zealand back in 1987 and incidentally it was the last and only time they have been crowned World Champions. There is no doubt that there is enormous pressure on every player who wears the famous jersey and does that pressure affect them on the big stage?
It must, leading up to this year’s rugby fest, New Zealand fans are not hoping for victory on home ground but simply expect success. Such pressure must have an impact and history suggests it does and has affected the performances of the New Zealand side which has played in the five previous World Cups. When they won the first back in 1987, most people must have expected that the All Blacks would have gone on to dominate the tournament but it hasn’t turned out that way and New Zealand have just one World Cup to their name. A quite remarkable stat considering they are the icons and picture boys of the world of Rugby union. In most other sports, the World’s number one ranked team most of the time win the big tournaments. In football, Brazil won the 2002 and 2006 World Cups whilst being top of the FIFA rankings and in cricket, India won the recent World Cup whilst being top of the ICC rankings. This doesn’t seem to happen in Rugby though and forgetting the Tri-Nations and 6 Nations, the main tournament is of course the World Cup and considering New Zealand have been top of the rankings for so long and have won the World Cup just once doesn’t make sense. It must be the pressure that they carry on their broad shoulders.
You cannot even say that the All Blacks have made the final over the years and were beaten on the day. They have reached the final just twice and lost to South Africa in 1995. They have a win rate in the Rugby World Cup of 83%, there is no doubt they comfortably stroll through the group stages but when they enter the knock out rounds, they seems to get the jitters. They hold records and statistics throughout the six previous World Cups but the one record that eludes them is to win another World Cup since the first ever World Cup.
They are clear favourites to win on home soil this year but there must be a seed of doubt in their minds ahead of the tournament. The media and public eye will be on them and any slip ups or bad performances will be heavily criticised by the media and fans. They have scored more points, more tries then anyone else but can New Zealand keep the Webb Ellis trophy in their rugby mad island? The next 6 weeks will tell us all.
They will be looking to bounce back from an embarrassing 2007 World Cup. Inevitably they sailed through the group stages, but like before, the All Blacks hit a barrier in the knock out stages. They came unstuck in Cardiff when beaten by France, a shock to the rugby World. They will be hoping to avoid a repeat of 2007 and go on to lift the trophy on front of their home fans in Auckland. That is the plan for Graham Henry and all of New Zealand but plans never go to plan…
By Ryan Bailey, @ryanbaileysport