RWC 2015 Draw Spotlight - New Zealand
NEW ZEALAND ON THE RWC STAGE
As hangovers go, 24 years is hard to beat, but the drinks were certainly flowing by the time New Zealand did what they’d done in 1987 and won Rugby World Cup 2011 on home soil.
No doubt more than a few of those glasses were raised to unlikely hero Stephen Donald, the fourth-choice fly half who finally got New Zealand over the line against the most stubborn of French resistance.
Called up at the 11th hour following injuries to Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Aaron Cruden, Donald held his nerve to slot what turned out to be the crucial World Cup winning penalty five minutes into the second half.
For New Zealand as a nation it was as much a sense of relief as anything else, as the victory finally put to bed years of frustration and rid them of the label of being the best team ‘between World Cups’.
Routine pool victories over Tonga, Japan and France were followed by a similarly comfortable wins over Argentina and Australia in the knockout stages of RWC 2011 to set up, as chance would have it, a reenactment of the 1987 Final at the same ground – Eden Park in Auckland.
In contrast to what had gone before New Zealand needed every ounce of energy in their bodies to repel France, their nemesis in two previous Rugby World Cups. There were no slip ups this time, though, as New Zealand, led by captain marvel Richie McCaw, held on to win 8-7.
Stronger, fitter and faster – and more ‘professional’ - than their peers it was no great surprise that New Zealand became the first winners of the Rugby World Cup. New Zealand brought a new dimension to world rugby and this was no better illustrated than in the dynamic play of flanker Michael Jones.
By the time New Zealand had beaten France 29-9 in the inaugural final their superiority had been well and truly underlined. The All Blacks had scored a total of 298 points in six matches, with 43 tries scored and only four conceded.
New Zealand were far from an unstoppable force in 1991 despite opening their defence with an 18-12 win against England at Twickenham. USA and Italy were then brushed aside in Gloucester and Leicester before their campaign switched to France and a date with Canada in the quarter-final.
The game proved one match too far for the North Americans, and New Zealand won 29-13. But New Zealand’s reign came to an end at the next hurdle in Dublin with a semi-final defeat to rivals Australia.
In 1995, New Zealand produced the standout result of the pool stages with a 145-17 rout of Japan that broke all manner of records … and just to think Jonah Lomu was not even on the pitch.
Lomu was the star of the tournament – bagging four tries in the semi-final win against England – but he was nowhere near his destructive best in the final. South Africa managed to largely nullify the threat of the giant wing and went on to win 15-12 after extra-time and celebrate their reintroduction back to the international sporting fold in the best possible fashion.
Four years later New Zealand were seemingly on course to meet Australia in the final. Leading France 24-10 they were in total control until Les Bleus turned the tables on them in dramatic fashion, a three-try blitz in 11 minutes ultimately ending their interest in the tournament.
Australia and New Zealand met for a second time in a Rugby World Cup semi-final in 2003, and, just as in 1991, it was the Wallabies who emerged victorious, this time 22-10.
The manner of their exit in 2007 was arguably the bitterest pill for New Zealand to swallow. For the first time in Rugby World Cup history New Zealand failed to make it into the last four after an agonising 20-18 quarter-final loss to France at the Millennium Stadium.
With New Zealand a nation in mourning, head coach Graham Henry was under huge pressure to call it quits. But he dusted himself down and vowed to see the job through to the end; the Rugby World Cup 2011 triumph proving to be a more than apt full-stop to his time in charge of the All Blacks.
Grant Fox scored 126 points in Rugby World Cup 1987– a record for the most points in a single tournament that still stands today.
Debutant fly half Simon Culhane’s haul of 45 points in the rout of Japan is the highest number of points scored by an individual in a single match, while wing Marc Ellis’ six tries in the same match is also a RWC record.
Home Rule - New Zealand, in a state of turmoil after several natural disasters had afflicted the nation, needed something to lift their spirits. Failure to back up their 1987 win on home soil in 2011 was unthinkable for the rugby-mad population of just over four million. Thankfully they delivered. Head coach Graham Henry, pilloried for the All Blacks’ failure four years before, described the win as ‘a beautiful feeling’.
Kirwan’s try - Arguably the best try in Rugby World Cup history. From deep inside his own 22, wing John Kirwan beat nine Italian defenders on his way to a dramatic score in the opening game of the inaugural tournament in 1987.
Cardiff carnage - New Zealand blew a 13-3 half-time lead against France to lose 20-18 and crash out at the quarter-final stages of the Rugby World Cup for the first time in their history.
“I think it’s important that we win for the country’s sanity … As a nation, we’ve not had a monkey on our backs but we’ve actually had a bloody great gorilla! We need to get it off.” - 1987 winner Grant Fox spelling out on the eve of the 2011 final what winning the Rugby World Cup would mean to his fellow countrymen.
Don’t get New Zealand team manager Darren Shand to buy you a Lottery ticket. The unfortunate Shand lost every coin toss to decide what kits the teams should wear at Rugby World Cup 2007. As a result, the All Blacks were forced to wear their change strip of grey in the pool match against Scotland, and again in the fateful quarter-final against France.