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So another Rugby World Cup is put to bed and with it the team that has always been described as the globe’s greatest has officially cemented its number one status — for now at least.
The New Zealand All Blacks’ triumph takes their World Cup winners tally to an unmatched three, they are the first to claim back-to-back successes and this time, unlike the previous ones, they did it on foreign soil.
There can be no denying their superiority in the game right now. The final did give us the two best teams in the world at this moment in time, but New Zealand were just that bit better than Australia in practically every facet.
The stream of rugby talent flowing into the All Blacks shows no sign of abating. For sure, big guns are leaving the scene in the shape of Dan Carter, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith (with captain fantastic Richie McCaw still to make his mind up about his future). Yet the rugby-playing culture in New Zealand, where it is true to say the game is a religion there, has ensured very abled successors are ready to fill the huge voids left.
The man who crossed the line in clinical fashion for the All Blacks’ final try in the decider, Beauden Barrett, is sure to be one of those. Others that should maintain the side’s frighteningly (frightening for the other nations that is) high standards include Sam Whitelock, Ben Smith, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane and Aaron Smith. Already people are pencilling them in to make it three-in-a-row in Japan 2019. We’ll give it a little time yet.
The question that is regularly asked, though, is ‘Why New Zealand?’ In terms of overall numbers playing the game, it’s well behind the leading nation in this regard, England. This is obviously understandable considering the small population of New Zealand compared to England — 4.47 million versus 53.01 million.
What much of the All Blacks success comes down to, as alluded to earlier, is culture. The outgoing Irish captain Paul O’Connell touched on this in an interview earlier this week. Looking at the rugby-playing differences between Ireland and New Zealand, two countries with similar numbers of registered players, O’Connell noted how in the latter country the sight of children getting together to play with the oval ball at school breaks or whenever is commonplace. Rugby is bred into them.
By contrast, in Ireland, you’re more likely to see young lads mimicking the moves of their heroes who play our national games of Gaelic football and hurling, or soccer, during their downtime. In many areas of Ireland — as happens in other top rugby-playing nations — rugby isn’t the first, or even the second, sport on the list.
Of course that’s just one element to it. The support structures and player management in New Zealand are second to none. Plus, while we see the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as superstars, the modesty instilled in each All Black player is to be admired. It’s a cliché in most team sports these days, but the idea that no one player is bigger than the team truly holds for the All Blacks.
Whatever they may have just won, or on the rare occasion lost, on the field, these guys are still expected to sweep up their dressing room after each game. Becoming an All Black may be the pinnacle for many New Zealanders, but it comes with responsibilities and high standards that must be maintained.
The All Blacks are certainly standard-bearers, not just for Rugby Union or sport in general but for many other walks of life, too, they set an example that you could do worse to follow.
It’s not always about winning, either; the All Blacks have just found the right formula to ensure they invariably do. Contenders for Japan 2019, the work starts now.
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