By Peter Bills
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Want to match or even beat the All Blacks at rugby? It's a cherished wish among all playing nations but few achieve it. Neither Scotland, who were trounced by their 2nd XV team last Saturday or Ireland, who meet them at Croke Park this Saturday, have ever beaten them. Wales haven't done so for decades and England accept they provide the ultimate test.
There is a reason for this. New Zealanders consistently set the highest standards in world rugby. Over the years, with the notable exception of World Cups, they have been the best in the business for sustained excellence and achievement. They have been Tri-Nations champions for the last four years and offer Declan Kidney's men a formidable challenge in Dublin this Saturday.
Peter Bills, who has been watching them since 1964, offers some reasons for this state of affairs...
1) They're smarter and have far more street-cred on the rugby field than any other nation.
2) They're like sharks sniffing blood in the water. Show any weakness and they'll pounce on it.
3) Other teams look for options on what to do during play. New Zealanders don't need to look and think – they just act instinctively.
4) Just when you think they might be predictable, they'll do the unexpected.
5) When an opponent gets isolated even for a moment, they'll strike.
6) When they strike, they do so with lethal speed and commitment.
7) They scavenge ferociously for the loose ball.
8) They're physically intense and fearsome. If you don't match them in this respect, you have little chance.
9) The levels of expectation within New Zealand rugby circles are absolutely frightening, the highest in the world. When I asked coach Graham Henry, after he had led his team to another Tri-Nations triumph in September, (their fourth in a row) whether that meant the knives were now out of his back, he replied ‘No, but they might have been blunted for a while.'
10) Youngsters growing up in New Zealand dream of playing for the All Blacks. That remains the case today.
11) Their powers of concentration are much greater than most opponents.
12) Their support for the ball carrier is phenomenal, consistently the best.
13) They're utterly ruthless in winning the ball, especially loose phase possession. Because they do it with such ferocity and intent, they secure it faster which means better quality possession for their backs.
14) They do the basics better than anyone else. These are inculcated from an early age.
15) There is an altogether greater physicality and intensity about the game in New Zealand. Their rugby men define them as a nation.
16) Their speed of recovery when they are in trouble is lightning fast.
17) To beat them, a side has to kick its goals and convert pressure and try scoring positions into points. Fail to do that, as Scotland were guilty of last weekend, and you have no chance.
18) They do what they have to do to stop any danger. That includes illegal play where needed.
19) The speed at which they do things on the field is usually so much greater than northern hemisphere teams manage.
20) There is a precision about their play which is the envy of most others.
21) They're the best in the world at playing referees cleverly.
22) They push laws to the limit and never stop testing match officials. If they're not picked up on them, they cheerfully transgress with regularity, a la their collapsed scrums against Scotland at Murrayfield last Saturday.
23) In Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith they have a highly experienced, smart coaching team. It is a trinity of talent.
24) A fear of failure is forever with them. It drives them on relentlessly.
25) The allure and value of the New Zealand jersey is priceless as a motivational tool. As former All Blacks hooker Anton Oliver says "If they ever sold part of that jersey to a commercial organisation and thereby diluted the uniqueness of the shirt, it would be the beginning of the end for the All Black legend, in my view."