Our undercover man inside the game
12 months ago
The abiding memory of the week leading up to last year’s world cup final was the almost unanimous belief in NZ that the All Blacks would win at a canter. It was a foregone conclusion. Game over before it started. The optimists were proved correct about the winners but not the manner of the victory. A nation was in a state of shock as the mighty All Blacks did just enough to secure their second world cup win. Vows were made over post match celebratory drinks that never again would such complacency be allowed to permeate the national psyche.
As the world champions prepare to face the Irish in June, the passing of seven months has allowed many in New Zealand to revert to type. The smugness has returned. A Justin Marshall article in Wellington’s Dominion Post this week was headlined “All Blacks will crush misplaced Irish confidence”. Others suggest that the tests should be used to “blood some youngsters who’ve performed well in S15; after all we’re only playing the Irish.”
One doubts that such complacency exist within the AB camp. Despite what his detractors say about him, Steve Hansen knows the importance of not giving Ireland any further motivation than they already have as they seek their first win over New Zealand. A clean sweep in the series will be crucial for the new coaching team as they try to avoid the traditional world cup hangover which Jake White warned of recently.
Marshall and the other optimists may be proven right with their predictions for the Irish series but they would be well advised to recall the elevated heart rates and nausea which accompanied the tension of the one point win over France in the final. The stakes won’t be as high next month of course but no All Black will want to be part of a team who fails to defend an unbeaten record which has stood since the teams first met in 1905. Meanwhile the Kiwis should respect their visitors on the field and enjoy their company off it because as tourists go they don’t get any better than the Irish.