HARD ACT TO FOLLOW: New Zealand will make history if they defend the trophy Richie McCaw lifted in 2011
LONDON, 7 Sept - The All Blacks must go where no rugby nation has gone before if they are to take the Rugby World Cup back to New Zealand.
None of the six previous champions has successfully defended the Webb Ellis Cup.
Coach Steve Hansen says the difficulty of the task makes this “a hugely exciting challenge” for the holders and knows that, despite being favourites, history is against them.
“The Cup isn’t ours. We are not defenders. Like everyone else, we are contenders,” Hansen told expectant All Blacks fans when he unveiled his RWC 2015 squad.
“We have to earn the right to win it through world-class performances. In doing so, we have to do something that no one has ever done before.”
This is how the previous champions fared.
1991 NEW ZEALAND (semi-final)
Having made fairly comfortable progress to the last four, Gary Whetton and his men ran into an inspired Australia side in Dublin, fired by David Campese’s genius. ‘Campo’ began with a studied show of disinterest in the All Blacks’ haka, preferring to kick a ball around on his own while his teammates accepted the challenge. Then he produced a virtuoso display, scorching over for a crossfield try before creating an even better one for Tim Horan with a magical over-the-shoulder pass. The best 40 minutes of Wallabies’ rugby that Michael Lynagh reckons he has been involved in gave them a 13-0 lead at half-time before they finally dethroned their rivals 16-6.
1995 AUSTRALIA (quarter-final)
The Wallabies became the first champions to lose in the group stages, with a 27-18 defeat against hosts South Africa in the tournament opener. Having then made it to a last-eight encounter with England in Cape Town, the scores were locked at 22-22 when Michael Lynagh’s side succumbed to virtually the last kick of the game, a difficult drop goal from the left flank struck sweetly by Rob Andrew to give England a famous victory. “People jumped 10 feet when that went over,” reckoned England coach Jack Rowell. “When they came down to earth, they were crying.”
1999 SOUTH AFRICA (semi-final)
The Springboks’ crown was dislodged in the last four when an attritional battle of the boot against Australia was settled in extra-time at Twickenham by the Wallabies’ marksmen, Stephen Larkham, with a decisive drop goal, and Matt Burke, with his eighth penalty, piloting them to a 27-21 win. Jannie de Beer, the hero of their quarter-final win against England, mislaid his deadly drop goal touch here, missing four attempts.
2003 AUSTRALIA (final)
The nearest any team came to successfully defending the trophy was when Eddie Jones’s Wallabies took England to extra time in a pulsating final in Sydney only for the host nation to be left utterly deflated by the right boot of Jonny Wilkinson with just 26 seconds left on the clock. His drop goal proved even more painful for Australia than Andrew's eight years earlier.
2007 ENGLAND (final)
How England came so close to a repeat triumph in France in 2007 represents one of the Cup’s great comeback stories following their embarrassing 36-0 capitulation to South Africa in the group stages. Brian Ashton’s resilient crew beat Australia and the hosts before finding the Springboks just too strong again in a try-free final. They lost 15-6 though England winger Mark Cueto still wonders if things might have been very different had his ‘try’ not been disallowed because the TMO ruled his foot had grazed the touchline. He still insists it was a legitimate score.
2011 SOUTH AFRICA (quarter-final)
The Springboks dominated territory and possession against Australia and had their chances to progress to the last four but an early mistake from Schalk Burger led to James Horwill scoring the match’s only try. The champions offered up a mistake-riddled performance in the face of magnificent Wallaby resistance as they attempted to play catch-up, eventually succumbing 11-9. Once again, the champions' curse had struck with the Springboks becoming only the second title-holders not to get as far as the semi-finals in the subsequent edition.