The All Blacks have been nothing short of consistent. Photo: John Cowpland/
All Black coach Steve Hansen, a week before the start of the Rugby World Cup, said he was interested to see how Ireland handled the pressure of being ranked the world’s best team. Now we know they just haven’t handled it at all.

Hansen, who has been assistant coach and head coach of the All Blacks in the most dominant era ever in international professional rugby, said the one advantage his All Blacks had was how they constantly had to deal with being number one in the world. Their supporters expected them to win every game and the players had to front week after week to make good on this expectation. Hansen said it was one thing to chase the crown, but very different to wear the crown.

What has defined the All Blacks over the past 10 years and for most of their history is their consistency in performance. In the professional age, particularly the last 10 years, the All Blacks have also shown a resolve to continue to win, despite having won everything. Week after week the motivation is there and invariably, they deliver a positive result.

Two years ago, I watched the All Blacks play Scotland with Rassie Erasmus and former French international and Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers. Scotland played one of their finest matches and nearly stole the game from New Zealand in the final minute, but the All Blacks proved just good enough to triumph. De Villiers spoke of the mental toughness of the All Blacks because they continued to be motivated when ordinarily a lack of motivation could be excused.

The chasing pack in world rugby have knocked over the All Blacks on occasion in the past few years, but none has managed to maintain a winning consistency in the same month, let alone for 10 successive years.Ireland arrived at this World Cup in bullish mood, but they have regressed from the moment they scaled their highest peak with a 16-9 win against the All Blacks in Dublin at the end of 2018.

Japan were magnificent in beating Ireland 19-12 on Saturday, but Ireland were imposters to the team that beat the All Blacks twice in three years. Ireland won’t go beyond the quarter-finals and they will bomb as they did at the 2015 World Cup. They have also never been the same since coach Joe Schmidt announced he was leaving after the World Cup. Wales showed enough in beating Australia for a semi-final spot and my four-team playoff picks are New Zealand, South Africa, England and Wales.


The Star

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