Wednesday 13 December 2017

Peter Bills: Pressure on All Blacks to stick to attacking guns and light up World

New Zealand believe their beloved All Blacks have just one task left in this Sunday's Rugby World Cup final -- win the Webb Ellis Trophy for the first time in 24 long years.

But I'd beg to differ. I reckon there are two jobs remaining for Graham Henry's men. Certainly, the first is to actually win the Cup, afterall New Zealand as a nation has gone through agonies these last 24 years, watching the successes of South Africa and Australia (twice each) and England (once).

As a consequence, the agonising soul-searching this nation is going through in the build-up to Sunday's final has to be seen to be believed. Sane, ordinary New Zealanders seem to have been infected, caught up in the sense of mania surrounding this World Cup showdown. If New Zealand don't succeed on Sunday, you just wonder how this place will get up for work on Monday.

So, victory over France in Sunday's final, which should actually be a relatively straight- forward task, is the first item on the agenda. But the second is, in many ways, just as important.

Eden Park, Auckland, scene of the very first Rugby World Cup final back in 1987, needs to witness a great advertisement for the game. For the future of the sport and to assure its continued growth, we need to see a vibrant, fast, physically powerful, but penetrative game.

We want to marvel at 15-man rugby being played to perfection, so that the winners can say: "There you are; that's what is possible under these new laws. Now do the same."

Undeniably, New Zealand have the capacity to do all this. From Israel Dagg at full-back to Cory Jane on the wing, Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu at centre, and the surprise of the later rounds of this event, out-half Aaron Cruden, New Zealand possess the cutting edge to damage any opponents.

What is more, they have some supreme talents up front, like Jerome Kaino at blindside flanker, for me the player of the tournament, or tighthead prop Owen Franks, whose tackle stats last weekend exceeded even those of Richie McCaw, not to mention the evergreen 36-year-old lock Brad Thorn.

The message regarding quality rugby is especially relevant in the northern hemisphere where, with the exception of Wales, hardly any teams have really demonstrated conclusively they are able to play a 15-man game consistently with the finesse and precision that is required.

That has been the secret of New Zealand's success these last four years. They deserve to win this time because for most of the era since the last World Cup, they have been easily the best team in the world.

And let us not forget -- they lost their No 1 playmaker, Dan Carter, for the final phases of this tournament. How effective would Ireland have been without Brian O'Driscoll?

New Zealand have embraced the possibilities of this game under the new law interpretations and have profited handsomely from doing so. Teams like England have just been a joke, while South Africa never came close to fulfilling their potential because their coach refused to dip a toe into the waters of 15-a-side rugby.

To their credit, New Zealand have thoroughly mastered the arts of all playing patterns within the game. They can bash it with the best up front, challenge and destroy anyone physically -- as they did the Australians in last weekend's semi-final. But they can also play some sublime stuff, with great attacking skills and vision.

Coach Graham Henry told me two years ago that the All Blacks would stick to their attacking guns and play that way, even amid the pressures of a World Cup.

They have largely done that and all credit to them. Thus, I hope that they will win the trophy this weekend by playing in that way. If the tournament is decided in a blur of pace, attack, movement and entertainment, as well as immense forward grunt, then surely no one could complain about the New Zealanders winning it this time.

Irish Independent

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