New Zealand plays host to their second World Cup under severe pressure to deliver a similar outcome to the first. Consistently ranked first in the world since 2009, the All Blacks own a terrifying record at home and boast an unfair proportion of the world’s top players. Kiwis will rejoice in the presence of France in Pool A after a weak pool in 2007 led to failure; Tonga, Japan and Canada will provide room for fine-tuning but will not be cause for concern. A probable semi-final clash with South Africa could prove as pivotal as the final, but only overall victory will suffice for an All Blacks squad with the weight of history on their shoulders.
New Zealand can only lay claim to winning the inaugural Rugby World Cup in 1987 despite boasting a plethora of world-beating squads in following generations. Perennial favourites in any World Cup year, the All Blacks have struggled to perform under the immense expectation of a nation that lives and breathes rugby. An appearance in the 1995 final proved their closest attempt, beaten in the dying seconds of extra time by the boot of Joel Stransky; all other tournaments have been deemed failures despite an enviable record blighted by a single quarter-final exit. A shock loss to Australia in the final Tri-Nations match in August sparked frenzied debate over the ability of the squad in hand; however the All Blacks have lost just three games in twenty and comfortably maintain their status as favourites. An ominous record at Eden Park, home to both semi-finals and the final, bodes well for the Kiwis; an All Blacks team has not been defeated at their premier stadium since 1994.
Renowned coaching trio Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen have entrusted a team featuring a staggering 842 caps with carrying out an expansive style of fast and physical counter-attacking rugby. The incomparable Richie McCaw, a triple International Player of the Year winner poised to receive a record 100th cap, captains his nation from the midst of a forward pack brimming with international pedigree. A world-class scrum, classy line-out and clinical back row mixes with the bruising strength of the likes of Brad Thorn and Kieran Read to ensure New Zealand are rarely on the back foot. New Zealand boasts record international point scorer Daniel Carter at fly-half, outside of whom lies the most potent line-up of backs in world rugby.
New Zealand kick off their World Cup ambitions against Tonga on the 9th before meeting Japan seven days later. A pivotal match against the French on the 24th will decide the major places in Pool A, before the All Blacks round off against Canada on October 2nd. New Zealand are likely to encounter South Africa before entertaining thoughts of an opposing finalist; but in a country that has waited 24 years for a second title, defeat is simply not an option.