24 years and counting – that is how long it is since the world’s greatest rugby side has won the World Cup. Surely they can’t stuff it up this time? Not at home. Not with only one teeny, last minute defeat in the whole of 2010. Not with the four-time IRB coach of the year, the three-time player of the year and the greatest fly-half in history. They couldn’t drop another World Cup could they?
It’s a sufficiently taxing question to prompt Graham Henry and his coaching staff to trawl through the archives. They are analysing every World Cup from 1991 onwards to find out if there are any common factors in New Zealand’s repeated failure to justify their favouritism. The think tank is running analysis to see if there is a pattern in the four yearly flop.
Does New Zealand play too much expansive rugby? Is the team that once used to throw a horse blanket over its grinding forwards, so drunk on its own power that it just can’t help itself? It can’t help itself from flinging the ball hither and thither when every halfwit knows that pragmatic rugby wins World Cups.
Do the All Blacks just play too many high intensity rugby games? By the time the World Cup rolls around they have been involved in Super XV, Tri Nations and the odd other fund raiser to help the NZRU balance its books. Come September most of them are either knackered or broken.
Do other teams just play above themselves when they come up against the All Blacks? Australia was poetic in ’91 and pragmatic in 2003. South Africa was driven by destiny in 1995. France in 1999 and 2007 were just, well, French. They played like Gods against the mighty All Blacks and then like citrons in the next round.
Is it a race issue? The South Africans certainly believe that you can get at the Polynesian psyche in the big matches. They think that the Lomus and Umagas and Nonus of this world break down under pressure. They believe that their physical advantages let them bully their way through rugby as kids and leaves them unprepared for later life. It’s a racist theory, but that doesn’t make it right or wrong.
My own theory is this. The All Blacks simply implode. By nature an introspective nation worried about how the rest of the world sees them, they just don’t get out enough in World Cups. They circle the wagons. They stay in their rooms. They are wary of the media and shy of the public. They lack a cultural interest in the world outside them. By the time the World Cup reaches the knock-out stages, the All Blacks have gone stir crazy. Without enough release valves, the steam just builds and builds and they end up blowing a gasket.
Anyway, what do you think? If you’re European, Aussie, South African – any nationality but Kiwi in fact – the more theories you come up with, the more paranoid the All Blacks might become. If you’re a New Zealander, King Henry and his men are looking for answers and will be interested in what you have to say.
We on the Rugby Site would also love to know what you think.