New Zealand: Why are these blacks considered the “weakest in history”?

New Zealand: Why are these blacks considered the “weakest in history”?

At the Matmut Stadium in Gerland, Lyon.

All Blacks defense coach Scott McLeod may detail his hunting trips this week in the Lyon area to the press, but doubts remain evident on the New Zealand side ahead of the first shock of the Rugby World Cup, on Friday (9.15pm) against France. Historically the most invincible team in the world, all team sports combined, the All Blacks have fallen violently from their pedestal since the end of the 2019 World Cup in Japan (semi-final exit to England 7-19). Consequently, coach Ian Foster has suffered 10 defeats and two draws in 39 matches over the past four years, which could be considered quite a contradiction given the iconic status of the Hakka group.

Indeed, the final blow came on August 25, just two weeks before the long-awaited opening match at the Stade de France, when the All Blacks were dealt their worst blow since 1928 by South Africa at Twickenham (7-35). “This historic defeat, fielding the best possible team, surprised a lot of people,” says Ollie Ritchie, a journalist for New Zealand's Newshub TV. It was a shock to see how this team's discipline collapsed that day [11 pénalités concédées en première période]And how completely disorganized the game was. Thus, this brought back concern to the country. »

An independent report criticizes the New Zealand Federation

Because in recent months he has partly left the small Oceanian island with a population of 5 million, after an encouraging series of 11 consecutive matches without defeat since the end of August 2022. And there, faltering at the worst possible time, for the final test. Before the World Cup finals in France. But how can the All Blacks have a modicum of certainty ahead of the World Cup, the one everyone imagines beating the competition every four years?

COVID-19 initially had a strong impact on New Zealand's competitiveness, with the Rugby Championship largely disrupted since 2020. After the last World Cup, the All Blacks did not measure themselves against South Africa, with the South having played just four times, in Three matches against Argentina, and only once against the XV of France and England. Likewise, the already struggling finances of the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) have been hit by the pandemic (revenues down 70% in 2020). Rugby there appears to be structurally sick, with controversial president Mark Robinson at the forefront. Independent report Thus it was announced on August 31 that the union was “unable to achieve the goals.” It is described as an outdated organization that is not suitable for the modern era.

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“The heritage of the shirt is very important.”

On the field side, some executives, who still play a key role in Japan in 2019, are no longer there, such as skipper Kieran Read, Sonny Bill Williams and even Ryan Crotty. If these 2023 All Blacks offer what is needed in terms of experience, we are facing players who have begun their decline, whether it is Beauden Barrett (32), far from his level as the best player in the world in 2016. And 2017 Aaron Smith (34 years old) or Sam Whitlock ( 34 years). Likewise, Captain Sam Keane (31) is far from having the unanimously recognized aura of one of his glorious predecessors, Richie McCaw. “But the legacy of the shirt means a lot to all the players, they want to honor it,” recalls Scott McLeod.

Winger Will Jordan, here during the match on August 25 at Twickenham, is one of the rare young talents in the New Zealand squad. – George Beck / PAOK // Ceiba

The most prominent talents in the world are still struggling to renew, with the exception of winger Will Jordan (25 years old), central Ethan de Groot (25 years old), and center Jordie Barrett (26 years old), who withdrew due to injury this year. . Friday. What is wrong is the frozen regulations of the National Football Association, which prevent the selection of some potential international players because they play abroad, especially in Europe where they can earn three times more money than at home. [ça va être le cas cette saison du néo-Toulonnais Leicester Fainga’anuku, 23 ans]And this is in a very competitive tournament?

The New Zealand Federation likes to think its league is the best in the world, but that's probably not the case, smiles New Zealand TV journalist Kimberly Downes. There are small exceptions but I can't imagine a real relaxation of this regulation. The federation needs to be able to rely on its biggest stars in its tournament. »

“This opening match could turn into a correction.”

In this context, doesn't the black shirt constitute a burden on the national team searching for its former glory? “This was particularly the feeling from 2020-22, but there is definitely renewed optimism about the All Blacks this year because the performances have become more consistent,” confirms Ollie Ritchie. There is still a good mix of talent and experience in this team. » However, this is the first time in history that New Zealand has been mentioned after other countries, such as South Africa, France and Ireland, as a potential World Cup winner. “That's outside noise,” said scrum-half Finley Christie, replacing Friday. We come together as a team and put all that aside because it doesn't matter to us if the media looks at us as outsiders in this World Cup. »

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World champions in 2011 and 2015, former New Zealand fly-half Dan Carter confided on Wednesday to… Parisian “The All Blacks are not one of the big favourites. This is something new as it has been in most editions. I think this edition will be the closest in history. Six teams could go this way, maybe even eight.” Former France international, Olivier Magne, went on to say , much further last week, in an interview Olympic midday : “Isn't this All Black team the weakest in history? I really wonder. I have the impression that New Zealand's victories in the Rugby Championship were just a sham. When I see the level the French XV was able to display over the course of 80 minutes against Australia [41-17]This opening match could turn out to be a correction for the All Blacks.

He challenged coach Ian Foster from the beginning to the end of his tenure

By recalling this punchline Nearby, Scott McLeod saw a forced smile appear on his face. “I didn’t see that happening,” the All Blacks defense coach said. We have enough things to motivate us, like the last time we played in France [revers 40-25 contre les Bleus en novembre 2021], such as the recent defeat against South Africa, and the possibility of playing the first World Cup match against the host country. We focus on that, we don't need this story. » “Playing France on home soil to start the Rugby World Cup, there's nothing bigger than that,” confirms Finlay Christie, who is very excited about this poster.

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His partner, Ova Tungvasi, continues: “At Twickenham, we know that South Africa puts us under pressure, with its numerical superiority. There, we will enter into an intense battle on a physical and mental level as well against France, and then in this whole long competition.” These will be the last weeks of the term. Controversial Ian Foster is at the helm of the All Blacks. “The coach issue has been a big topic of discussion in New Zealand in recent years,” Kimberley Downs says. The players allowed him to save his job in 2022. Then the union's announcement of his successor, Scott Robertson, in March was premature. /Last March, a very controversial option. We will quickly find out if this disables this team or if it motivates it for such a meeting. »If we had been told, when the 2017 World Cup was awarded, that the French XV would find itself favorites against the All Blacks…

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