2011 Rugby World Cup – New Zealand view: “We want Australia in the final!”
Next up for interrogation in our series of previews ahead of the World Cup, RugbyFix’s Mike Williams has kindly answered a series of questions about his beloved All Blacks with the biggest tournament in world rugby on home soil just around the corner.
Mike talks about the Tri Nations, whether they can cope if Dan Carter is laid low and if the All Blacks can end 24 years of World Cup misery.
Hi Mike, Just what would winning the World Cup on home soil after such a long wait mean?
Admittedly, there’s a bit of desperation at this point. A victory will almost be more a relief than reason for exuberation! However, winning a World Cup would be amazing for New Zealand, particularly for this generation of All Blacks who have been incredible for us; guys like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina.
For a small nation, financially we’ve put a lot on the line for this World Cup. There is some concern that an early exit for the All Blacks would mean the World Cup loses any enthusiasm from the local audience. However, the vibe since the overseas teams started arriving has been terrific. The arrival of the Tongan team actually stopped traffic in some parts of Auckland today.
In the aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquake the Crusaders fell just short of providing the city with something to cheer about in Super Rugby, is the events of earlier this year in Christchurch seen as a motivating factor for the team?
Yes, I believe it is still something of a motivating factor for this team. For a start, there are so many Crusaders players in the All Blacks. Management is also doing what it can to make Christchurch a part of this World Cup, despite the city having to lose its World Cup matches. For example, the All Blacks will be spending some time in the Christchurch. That will remind the All Blacks that there are people in that city still suffering and will probably give an insight into how much winning the World Cup means to those people.
We saw in the Super Rugby that riding those types of emotions will only get you so far, so I think the coaches will be conscious of managing that too.
It was great to read that England and Australia have made plans to make some appearances in Christchurch too. That place is such a rugby city so it must have been tough for them to lose their world cup games, amongst everything else that’s happened.
“I do think the (Tri Nations) losses will have a negative effect should they come up against South Africa and particularly Australia. They’ve definitely given those countries a bit of confidence now. They’ll be particularly worried about Australia, especially Will Genia.”
What affect will the Tri Nations defeats have on the team’s morale going into the World Cup?
Hard to say. On one hand, the All Blacks are a confidence team. They perform best when they are on a roll. On the other hand, history tells us that riding a wave of great form into a World Cup hasn’t been great for the All Blacks either.
Personally, I do think the losses will have a negative effect should they come up against South Africa and particularly Australia. They’ve definitely given those countries a bit of confidence now. They’ll be particularly worried about Australia, especially Will Genia.
The midfield is an area of concern for the All Blacks for the right reasons, will SBW be given a chance to shine or will it be the tried and tested Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu?
I can’t see Sonny Bill Williams getting too many opportunities in the World Cup. Unfortunately he just hasn’t taken his chances this year. He’s had opportunities off the bench and a starting role in Port Elizabeth, but he didn’t show much of the potential he showed last year or in Super Rugby. Nonu, on other hand, has gone from strength to strength. His combination with Conrad Smith is also a huge asset.
Realistically, I think SBW will probably get a start or two in the pool stages, but not much else. I really would like to see him get one more shot early to see if he can step up. Even though he is a bit of a specialist, we could use someone like him coming off the bench. He really needs to show some form though. SBW is getting a bit of bad press in New Zealand at the moment because he’s considering reneging on his decision to re-sign with the NZRU. One of his high profile entourage, Anthony Mundine, is publically complaining about his non-selection in the starting fifteen. This sort of publicity isn’t endearing himself to the New Zealand public right now.
What did you learn from your main rivals from the Tri Nations, South Africa in particular are seen as a bit of an unknown quantity in the Northern Hemisphere having fielded so many experimental teams?
We learned that South Africa seem to be genetically engineered for knockout football. One thing you can count on is that they will not be an unknown quantity come World Cup time. They’ll have strong set pieces, strong and rushing defense, efficient drop goal execution, and they will kick penalty goals from halfway upwards. The wingers will have to wait for intercepts and kick chases to see much of the ball.
The whole Wallaby team has that competitive streak Australians are famous for, which has always made them incredibly dangerous. Now they have a lethal backline of young, confident rock stars who are hard to keep down. They can get walloped in Auckland, but then go on to beat South Africa at home and keep a first string All Black side to 20 – 3 at half time. If you give the Australians an opening, they’ll be hard to stop.
“There is always lots of rivalry between those New Zealand and Australia, but particularly at the moment. Quade Cooper is a somewhat of a public enemy number one in New Zealand, which is ironic considering he grew up here.”
Are you happy with the 30 man squad?
Yes, for the most part.I’m not that happy with the outside backs. I think we needed a strike winger in there, one of Sitiveni Sivivatu or Hosea Gear. We missed a game breaker in the matches against the Wallabies in Brisbane.
The good thing about debating the All Black selections at the moment is that you’re only debating fringe players. We have acres of editorial being printed simply over the choice of the fourth prop or lock, the fifth loose forward, back up fly half or the fifth and sixth outside back.
There generally isn’t too much debate about the starting 22 right now, except for the wingers.
Unfortunately there were some injuries to the loose forwards in the last test. Starting number 8 Kieran Reid has an ankle sprain, and bench utility loose forward Adam Thomson hyper-extended his elbow. Thomson will miss at least one pool match and Read could miss all four. This will seriously test the squad as they only selected five loose forwards. Read is a very important member of the team, but even if he makes it back he will be severely short of match fitness.
Are you worried about a perceived lack of cover for Dan Carter at 10?
Definitely. When you have a such a dominant player in a specialist position for so long, you go through patches when decent backups get sick of waiting and go and do something else. We are in a phase now where all of the backups are too young and inexperienced.
Most countries would be worried about the back up to their starting 10, but certainly the drop down from Carter to Colin Slade is causing a lot of stress!
Is Piri Weepu the right man to support Carter at scrum half?
I like the combination of Cowan starting and Weepu coming off the bench. I think Cowan is so strong defensively that he might be able to frustrate the opposition halfback and lay the platform for Weepu to open things up in the second half. Weepu is a good reader of the game too, so he can analyse what’s happening and identify opportunities for when he comes on.
It’s tough to exile a talent like Weepu to the bench, but this coaching team has maintained that the modern game requires two halfbacks so they typically bring the reserve halfback on soon after halftime.
Much has been made of the rivalry between Richie McCaw and Quade Cooper, the Tri Nations etc, it’s all set up for a New Zealand Australia final right?
That’d be great! New Zealanders would take a final against anyone at this point because we haven’t made one since 1995.
There is always lots of rivalry between those two teams, but particularly at the moment. Quade Cooper is a somewhat of a public enemy number one in New Zealand, which is ironic considering he grew up here. There’s always a lot made about the rivalry between Graham Henry and Robbie Deans after they went head to head for the All Blacks coaching job after the 2007 World Cup too.
Thanks again to Mike, to check out more of his views, head over to Rugby Fix now!
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