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By Mike Henson
Sportswriters sometimes claim the headline has mis-sold their words.
New Zealand journalist Chris Rattue could have no complaint.
“Just give us the World Cup today” conducted a front-page plug for his part in the New Zealand Herald.
Switch inside to the game section and his opening line advised readers”it is time to jump the gun”.
He added:”They may as well hand over the Webb Ellis Cup now, with the All Blacks looking this good.”
And on that day – Sunday August 2018 – nobody could have had lots of complaints about it.
Mercurial fly-half Beauden Barrett had scored four tries at a win over Australia.
The victory meant that, because winning their second consecutive Rugby World Cup in the autumn 2015, New Zealand had dropped just a few of the 33 Tests.
The entire domination of world gaming showed no sign of end and there wasn’t any reason to believe it would not extend to Japan 2019 along with a third world summit.
However, with their pool game and a potential final dress rehearsal against second-favourites South Africa looming, things aren’t quite so certain.
Back in August this year another article appeared, this time on the side of the Tasman Sea following a Bledisloe Cup result that was very different.
Sydney-based paper The Australian fed pictures of Sam Whitelock, All Blacks Sonny Bill Williams and Kieran Read to the Faceapp instrument, putting yet another 40 years on the 30-plus All Dark mainstays.
The dig in the’Blacks’ arose in the Wallabies’ record 47-26 win over a 14-man New Zealand at Perth.
A South Africa had held to a 16-16 draw home turf the match New Zealand, before that. Nine months they were squeezed out by a persistent Ireland side in Dublin, moving 16-9 down.
As a result of these defeats, for what they are worth, World Rugby’s own ranks rate Ireland as the world’s greatest team heading into the tournament, as Wales and Joe Schmidt’s negative finished that the All Blacks’ near-decade long haul on top spot.
Is this the end of an age? Or a false dawn for their chasing rivals?
A member of the squads in 2015 and 2011 who currently plays his club rugby with French side Pau, ominously Colin Slade, considers the taste of hardship could muster the All Blacks’ desire for more World Cup glory.
“I think that defeat in Perth, particularly, might be a good thing for a bit of a wake-up telephone a reminder that everyone is beatable on their afternoon,” he told BBC Sport.
“I think a whole lot of individuals tend to push the panic button really early and also read a whole lot into things, especially with the All Blacks.
“One bad functionality and everyone is led to believe the wheels are off the mat.
“sinking into 2015, we weren’t beating everyone comfortably but we’d expertise and impression on the psychological side of this match.
“That is something head coach Steve Hansen has escalated since earlier 2011 and has installed in every new player who comes into the squad – when times get tough, you have to change up emotionally, stay calm and concentrate on performing your job for the team.”
There are things they are missing when compared to four years back however; Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw to get a start.
The trio bowed from international rugby at Twickenham.
The vacuum was filled with discussion.
Head coach Hansen’s options in Japan are more catchy Even though the 2015 side known as itself.
“I do not think they are as secure as they were at 2011 or 2015,” Northampton director of rugby, former Hurricanes coach and New Zealander Chris Boyd told BBC Sport.
“Those two groups have been in concrete two decades out.
“They knew the game they were playing, the players that had been playing 1-15 knew that they werethe players 16-23 understood that they were and also the men out the 23 knew that they were and they all had their functions.
“I think in the current side they’re still’fishing’ due to injury, loss of type, unavailability and a few men putting up their hands.”
Barrett is perhaps the first name on the team-sheet. Where he matches in but, with Hansen the query is.
From full-back, livewire Damian McKenzie shared the accountability From the autumn.
However, his serious knee injury has forced a rethink and a re-jig, together with Crusaders’ Richie Mo’unga brought in at Barrett and fly-half shifting to full-back.
“I like and comprehend the logic of owning 2 playmakers on the field, which may help a lot,” said Slade.
“‘Beaudie’ is a class action, needs to be on the field, and will probably be.
“Damian McKenzie is possibly a big loss, but how Richie is going, he may have forced his way in there .
“What Steve is going to do today is balance the make-up of the remaining part of the team and he will have some games at the swimming pool to figure out his best mix”
New Zealand hope to become handing out lessons on history at the conclusion of the tournament, Since Hansen tinkers with all the chemistry within his line-up in the early stages.
While they’ve mastered the past two editions of this Rugby World Cup, their relationship with the match showpiece is complicated bordering on tortuous.
It took another 24 years until they finally got their hands on the William Webb Ellis trophy for a second time after winning the 1987 event.
Until this 2011 triumph that was cathartic, the Blacks turning to late-stage chokers from winners had become something of a World Cup tradition.
Have the ghosts of this semi-final defeat by France in 1999 or in the previous eight to the opponent in 2007 been exorcised? If things get tight in the knockout phases or, might they’re exhumed?
“In 2011 the pressure was nearly claustrophobic,” remembers Patrick McKendry, senior writer at the NZ Herald.
“The closing that season was painful for many New Zealanders to watch. They had to get it done and they got a monkey off their backs and it done.
“The disposition of the country took a bit of success after being beaten by Australia in Perth, however the response, beating the Wallabies 36-0 per week later, was pretty impressive.
“I would say the collective disposition in New Zealand is silent assurance. Three in a row will be challenging, but they are pretty sure they can do it.”
South Africa on Saturday will be a test of that assurance, the champions’ credentials and also if the All Blacks’ age of dominance would be finishing.
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