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Are the All Blacks Chokers?
Led mostly by Australians and Englishmen, the rugby world takes great delight in labeling the New Zealand All Blacks chokers for their recent lack of World Cup success. Since the first World Cup won by New Zealand, the story of the All Black World Cup has been one of disappointment and heartbreak for all All Black supporters who wonder how the team that they are seems to have spent the entire three years leading up to the World Cup. stomping on everyone in the place can manage to throw away world cups year after year.
It started in England, where the All Blacks defeated Australia in the semi-finals. I remember that year well, Australia beat the All Blacks convincingly at home, then New Zealand managed to retain the Bledislow cup by winning a low scoring game at home. 1-1 all going into the world cup with Australia looking far more convincing in their win. In the minds of many New Zealanders, the All Blacks were the underdogs in this semi-final. Chokers – not here. As much as it pains me to say it, beaten by a better team not only on the day but in the season.
In South Africa in 1995, the All Blacks played well, dismissing everyone between them in the final. Waking up in the middle of the night, the New Zealanders were greeted with the news that many of their groceries were suffering from food poisoning ahead of their final against the hosts. The game still went to extra time and the All Blacks lost the drop kicking contest. Stew…just for their dinner.
In 1999, the All Blacks went into the semi-finals against a French team that was described as “just a fluke in the draw”. On this occasion, I was driving a piece of land to see my girlfriend and I listened to the radio as the static crackled here and there. New Zealand controlled much of the game but were blown away in the second half by the kind of playing time France produces once in a decade. When in this mood, they are almost unstoppable. France showed their other side in the final, losing badly to Australia in an ugly match. The All Blacks were so dejected that they had little heart for their 3rd place finish in the play-off with South Africa, finishing in their worst ever World Cup finish – 4th. Choking? Here maybe yes, they certainly didn’t have an answer once the French turned on the magic.
In 2003 the All Blacks comfortably beat Australia in the Tri-Nations (in one game very decently) and after seeing off South Africa in their Semi-Final they were favorites going into the Semi-Final against the hosts. Australia played a game plan the All Blacks had never seen and once again a failure to adapt cost the All Blacks the game. However, one interception made all the difference and Australia were always going to be very hard to beat on their home soil. Australia lost to England in the final. There was no heartless play-off this time for the Kiwis, who took their frustration out on France.
Overall, New Zealand’s history at World Cups has been disappointing for fans, but only one country, Australia, can boast a better record. The ‘choker’ brand is more of something used to rile up New Zealand fans than something any team actually believes in. At the 2007 World Cup, the All Blacks comfortably beat all the major nations, several times by 30 points or more. Remarkably, they’ve done this with a lineup system that means they often play their second 15 in a given match. No other country in the rugby world has shown the depth to consider it, yet in 2006 the All Blacks lost just one game – a “dead rubber” in Ristenburg to a South African team fueled by desperation.
Racers should take New Zealand teams at their own risk. They are overwhelming favorites to win the 2007 World Cup, but they are not invincible, as Rustenburg showed.
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