Rugby World Cup 2019: All Blacks not invincible, but worthy favourites

By Sports Desk September 17, 2019

Talk of two-time defending champions New Zealand being vulnerable as they bid to make Rugby World Cup history will be music to the ears of Steve Hansen.

The All Blacks start their quest to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for an unprecedented third time in a row as favourites, and rightly so.

Yet New Zealand are not the all-conquering force that have taken on all comers for so many years and slipped to second in the rankings behind Ireland ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Chinks in the armour were exposed during a Rugby Championship campaign that New Zealand finished in third spot after they were soundly beaten by Australia and drew with South Africa.

The Springboks were crowned champions, making a strong statement just six weeks before the two heavyweights do battle in their Pool B opener in Yokohama.

Ireland have beaten Hansen's side twice in the last three years and South Africa consigned them to defeat in a Wellington classic 12 months ago.

The juggernaut has been halted, but there is no doubt it can fire up driven on by inspirational captain Kieran Read - hungry to end his international career by lifting the famous trophy yet again in November.

Australia were put in their place a week after rocking the 14-man All Blacks in Perth, going down 36-0 at fortress Eden Park just eight days later.

Hansen must be rubbing his hands together reading or hearing about his side being fallible as they prepare to try and make history and give him the perfect send-off.

The All Blacks supremo declared Ireland are favourites to dethrone New Zealand after his side were beaten in Dublin last year, but sounded a warning upon arrival in Tokyo.

"To try and do things that have never been done before is a hallmark of what New Zealand people are about." he said.

"We came away from the home shores and settled in a country at the bottom of the earth. We had to find ways to live in isolation when life wasn't like it is today.

"They became pioneers. That's important in life and particularly in sport; you've got to strive to be leaders rather than followers. We have an opportunity that no one else at the tournament gets; we can shy away from it or get really excited about it. We are really excited by it."

One look at the list of New Zealanders who failed to make the squad shows the challenge their rivals face in trying to end their dominance.

Test centurion Owen Franks was sensationally omitted along with outstanding centre Ngani Laumape, highlighting the embarrassment of riches at Hansen's disposal.

Liam Squire is also absent, but Hansen has such an abundance of quality to call upon that New Zealand remain the team to beat.

The fear factor may not be what it was, but write the All Blacks off at your peril.

Related items

  • F1 Raceweek: The joy of six - how Mercedes broke constructors' record F1 Raceweek: The joy of six - how Mercedes broke constructors' record

    It was only a matter of time before Mercedes broke Ferrari's record by sealing a sixth consecutive Formula One constructors' titles.

    The Silver Arrows were celebrating yet again after achieving that feat at the Japanese Grand Prix, where Valtteri Bottas took the chequered flag ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton finished third.

    Mercedes have held the title since dethroning Red Bull in 2014, dominating the sport with Hamilton winning four titles during that time and standing on the brink of another this season.

    We look back on the level of dominance the Brackley-based team have enjoyed.

     

    2014 - A sign of things to come

    Red Bull had taken the title for four years in a row before Mercedes ended that sequence in 2014.

    Hamilton claimed his second world title - and his first for the team - ahead of colleague Nico Rosberg and the Silver Arrows duo amassed 701 points to win by a margin of 296.

    They won 16 races and secured 31 podium finishes in a dominant season which was the sign of things to come.

     

    2015 - More of the same with a marginal gain

    Mercedes bettered their tally for the season by two points as Hamilton retained his title, Rosberg once again runner-up.

    They matched the number of victories secured in 2014, as well as the incredible total of 18 poles for the campaign.

    There was an additional podium finish for the back-to-back constructors' champions by 275 points ahead of Ferrari as rivals were left trailing in their wake.

     

    2016 - Rosberg reigns as Mercedes move to another level

    The Silver arrows took their dominance to another level in 2016, winning 19 of 21 races. 

    While Mercedes were never in danger of losing their constructors' title, finishing 297 points better off than Red Bull, Hamilton and Rosberg fought it out in an enthralling battle for the drivers' crown.

    It was Rosberg who came out on top on this occasion by just five points and the German retired after a season that saw Mercedes fail to secure pole only once and amass 33 podiums.

     

    2017 - New line-up, no let-up

    A new driver line-up did not stop Mercedes from adding another constructors' title to their haul two years ago.

    Normal service was resumed as Hamilton regained the title, denying Vettel by 46 points with Bottas third in the standings after taking Rosberg's seat.

    There were 12 wins, 15 poles and 26 podium finishes for Mercedes in 2017 as Ferrari were more competitive, although the Scuderia were still as many as 146 points adrift of the constructors' champions.

     

    2018 - Ferrari close the gap, but Mercedes clean up again

    A promising start for Vettel and Ferrari last season proved to be a false down as Hamilton claimed his fifth world title.

    Ferrari finished with 84 points fewer than Mercedes as Hamilton and Bottas took the chequered flag 11 times between them.

    Mercedes were not quite as prolific in qualifying, taking pole 13 times as their points tally was down at 655 from 668 12 months earlier.

     

    2019 - Six of the best

    With four races remaining Mercedes already have one title in the bag, with Hamilton closing in on another.

    A win for Bottas in Suzuka and Hamilton's third place has the champions on 612 to Ferrari's 433.

    Mercedes have only failed to win five of 17 races, which makes for grim reading for their rivals.

  • Rugby World Cup 2019: Hansen 'quite happy' All Blacks avoided in-form Japan Rugby World Cup 2019: Hansen 'quite happy' All Blacks avoided in-form Japan

    Steve Hansen is "quite happy" to see Japan on the opposite side of the draw to New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup - but knows Ireland will be a tough test in the quarter-finals.

    Tournament hosts Japan qualified for the knockout stages for the first time in their history, Sunday's hard-fought victory over Scotland also seeing them finish top of Pool A.

    The 28-21 result means the Brave Blossoms next face South Africa, who were second in Pool B, rather than New Zealand, with the two-time reigning champions instead going up against Ireland. 

    Pleased to avoid one of the in-form teams still left standing, Hansen praised the way Japan's players had lifted their nation after the devastation caused by Typhoon Hagibis.

    "Without a doubt they'd have to be considered like they are playing and performing like a Tier One nation," the All Blacks head coach told the media. 

    "They're now in the top eight in the world on performance and they're playing quality rugby, so I think Japan should be very, very proud of them.

    "What a marvellous thing for the tournament, you know they've given the game a boost I think, they've given Japan Rugby a boost, and they've given the Japan people a boost after what was a pretty horrific weekend.

    "People have said, 'Who do you want to play?' Well, they're the on-form team, so I'm quite happy they're on the other side of the draw."

    New Zealand hardly have it easy in the last eight, though, as they go up against opponents who topped the world rankings prior to the World Cup.

    Ireland have also won two of the three previous meetings between the teams, including a 16-9 triumph in Dublin when they met in November 2018.

    "Obviously we're facing Ireland so we know that, that's the best part, we know who we're playing," Hansen said. "They're a quality side, they've been number one this year.

    "I think their last three results are loss-win-loss [for New Zealand] - there won't be any complacency in their camp, so it's pretty exciting. We're right where we want to be.

    "We enjoy playing them and that doesn't change because they've beaten us a couple of times.

    "A lot of people are getting caught up in the past, it's about what's going to happen on Saturday that is going to matter, anything that's happened prior to that is irrelevant."

  • Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Aki to play no further part in Japan after three-week ban Rugby World Cup 2019: Ireland Aki to play no further part in Japan after three-week ban

    Bundee Aki will play no further part in Ireland's Rugby World Cup campaign after being hit with a three-week ban for a dangerous tackle on Samoa's Ulupano Seuteni.

    Referee Nic Berry showed the powerful centre a red card in the 29th minute of Saturday's 47-5 hammering of Samoa, which secured Ireland's place in the quarter-finals.

    Aki sought to have the red card overturned but the referee's decision was upheld by a disciplinary committee meeting on Tuesday.

    The 29-year-old's past record saw the original starting point of a six-week suspension reduced to three, but that means Aki will not face New Zealand in the last eight, nor can he play in the semis or final should Ireland get that far.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.