20 Feb

Rugby World Cup Year
by Paul Waite
20 Feb 2003

There’s always a special feeling of anticipation when it’s the year of a Rugby World Cup.

Of course quite often the little butterflies of expectation are the most pleasant part of the whole thing, as they morph like a Lord of the Rings special effect, into the giant squids of disappointment come the event.

So what can we expect this time around. An All Black win, that’s what. I could end this article right here now that I’ve given you the important information, but I feel obliged to fill in some of the finer detail for you.

While Australia and South Africa exhausted themselves silly on disastrous end-of-season tours, John Mitchell rested his top All Blacks, and took a development squad away to the Uk and France where they aquitted themselves well. This year the test squad will be packed full of revitalised players, pumped for the World Cup, instead of nursing old injuries along from the previous season.

Another piece of the jigsaw is the approach Mitchell has taken since getting the All Black coach job. He has centred his efforts around the forward platform, and regaining that traditional All Black supremacy up front. This reaped dividends last season, his first in charge, and will bear more fruit this year.

Out in the backline the news is that the All Blacks have been deliberately holding back patterns of play they intend to use in the World Cup. Bits and pieces of the whole have been practiced infrequently enough to escape video analysis, but the whole package will only be unveiled in November.

Looking at players, the All Blacks are probably at their strongest depth since 1997, particularly in the forwards. Taken together with Mitchell’s emphasis on re-establishing the basic strengths of All Black forward play, this is very significant.

Taken as a whole therefore, the All Black picture is an encouraging one in this Rugby World Cup year. Aside from the team-oriented aspect, there is also the added X-factor of Jonah Lomu. If anything motivates Jonah to train and regain his most devastating form it’s a World Cup. News has it that he has shed numerous kilos, and is getting back to the kind of dynamic play that made his name in 1995, and later in 1999.

Unless, as in a certain farcical yacht race a rich Swiss buys the All Black forward pack and plays them against us, New Zealand should be able to field a World-beating team in November.

Bring it on.

Paul Waite

Paul Waite

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