10 All Black myths that must be debunked if they are to be beaten
Richie McCaw's men are a very good team, but they are not yet great and are not invincible
THERE IS NO AURA, THEY ARE THERE TO BE BEATEN
New Zealand are a damn fine rugby team, as were England in their 2003 pomp, South Africa ditto when they won the 2007 World Cup and the Kiwis themselves countless times.
They are there to be beaten, as Clive Woodward's England were three times as they tilted for a Grand Slam and, of course, New Zealand themselves were this time 12 months ago when they arrived at Twickenham brandishing rave notices. No team is invincible.
2. THE BLACK SHIRT IS NOT A SYMBOL OF MENACE
The All Blacks are well-branded, designed to appear forbidding and intimidating. Woodward instructed his players never to refer to New Zealand as the All Blacks in an effort to demystify them. There is no doubt that the Kiwis themselves fill that shirt with pride every time they pull it over their heads.
They draw on the heritage that is passed down through the generations, honouring those who have gone before by playing to their best. But that is not, or shouldn't be, any different to every other international team.
3. MCCAW'S TEAM HAVE NOT YET SCALED RUGBY'S HEIGHTS
For all their achievement, the All Blacks side that heads to Twickenham this weekend and Dublin the next is not the greatest team to have played the game. They have lost only once in 33 matches since winning the World Cup in 2011, the surprise setback at Twickenham last year spoiling the perfect return.
They are kingpins in the Rugby Championship, winning the title in the opening two years of that tournament. They have swept all before them this calendar year. And yet accolades of greatness are not to be easily granted.
Wales and the Lions in the early 70s, Buck Shelford's All Blacks of the late 80s, Sean Fitzpatrick's of the mid-90s and Woodward's England – these teams deserve to be on rugby's Mount Rushmore. Richie McCaw's side has yet to accede to that pinnacle. They are very good but not yet great.
Their dominance is a reflection on the relative paucity in quality of the opposition. The Springboks are closing the gap, England too.
4. NEW ZEALAND ARE MORE THAN A TWO-MAN TEAM
McCaw and Dan Carter have long been the heartbeat of this All Black side, world-class operators, deserving to be in the mix as the greatest ever to have played the game in their positions.
They have shaped the play on the field as well as set the standards off it. McCaw is the conscience, Carter the orchestrator. Somehow New Zealand managed to win the World Cup on home soil without Carter and with McCaw on one leg, better than most players on two. There has been a more even distribution of talent of late.
Aaron Cruden, who was shaky and unsure as a stand-in fly-half in 2011, has grown considerably and is a fine player now, Sam Cane likewise on the openside flank for McCaw. There are other generals in the team as well, men such as No 8 Kieran Read, challenging for entry to the pantheon.
5. THIS SIDE PLAY THE PERCENTAGES
The All Blacks do not play all-dancing, all-singing rugby. They kick more than most international teams, cannily playing the territory game. It is their rugby intellect that sets them apart – not dazzling individual brilliance. That said, there is no better side at taking chances, converting opportunity into tries. Their discipline in holding their attacking shape with their runners in the right place is without equal.
6. NEW ZEALAND HAVE SCRUMMAGING ISSUES
The All Blacks are not as vulnerable as the Wallabies, whose scrum has been a thing of ridicule, but there are fault lines there that can be exposed.
7. NEW ZEALANDERS ARE MORTAL AFTER ALL
They do get ill. Food poisoning and a mysterious waitress by the name of Suzie did for them on the eve of the 1995 World Cup final in South Africa and the norovirus bug reduced them to shivering, vomiting wrecks prior to last year's game at Twickenham. Did England run them ragged or were they too ill to compete properly? Keep eyes peeled for macrobiotic muggers in the coming weeks.
8. NO POINT IN MAKING A SONG AND DANCE OF THE HAKA
The haka is wonderful sporting theatre but no more than that. It has resonance for New Zealanders but its relevance to what happens once the first whistle is blown is zero. It does not give New Zealand any advantage whatsoever and to think it does betrays weakness.
9. LAST YEAR'S TWICKENHAM DEFEAT WILL HAVE HURT NEW ZEALAND
Defeat hurts against anyone? Not quite. South Africa is the biggest rivalry but losing to England carries the most sting. Zinzan Brooke said recently that the 15-9 loss at Twickenham in 1993 caused so much anguish that the only motivational gambit prior to the World Cup semi-final in Cape Town two years later was to pin the white England jersey to the dressing-room wall. Not a word was spoken, Jonah Lomu ran amok and the loss was avenged in spectacular fashion.
New Zealand are humble while the English are arrogant? It is a tired old line, trotted out with distressing regularity but it seems to stick throughout much of world rugby. Expect to hear it from someone somewhere over the next few days. (© Daily Telegraph, London)