Haka to the Drawing Board for New Zealand

Image Credit: Irish Independent

New Zealand’s recent form in the Autumn Internationals has led to questions  about their prospects for the 2019 World Cup in Japan

New Zealand, the number one ranked side in the world and the undisputed Kings of Rugby. They are to rugby union what Brazil are to football, free flowing, spectacular and a delight to watch; managing to do all this whilst winning.

However, much like Brazil they have entered a slight slump. After escaping with a one point victory against England, Ireland handed the Kiwis their second defeat of the last two months. For any other team this would not be a big problem, especially against the number two side in the world, but this is no normal team.

The All Blacks have only lost eight matches in the past six years under current Head Coach Steve Hansen. He captured New Zealand’s third World Cup in 2015, has a win percentage of 88.4%, with a record of 84 wins, 8 losses and 3 draws and also has the longest winning streak for a top tier side, tied with Eddie Jones’ England, at 18 games.

The defeat against Ireland is not unexpected since the men in green beat them in Chicago two years ago; what is surprising is the manner in which they lost. 16-9, only a converted try separated the two, but the shock was that the visitors did not score a single try.

Image Credit: [Belfast Telegraph]

Credit must be given to the Irish players who gave their all in stopping the Kiwis from crossing the line, with Peter O’Mahony coming off battered and broken after 66 minutes putting in a warrior like performance for his country. However, New Zealand did not seem to alter their game plan, expecting to simply outplay the opposition. The coach must take the blame for a lack of a plan B.

Hansen has done a tremendous job of rebuilding whilst sustaining their winning ways post-2015, with key players like Dan Carter and Captain Richie McCaw retiring. New Captain Kieran Read, scrum half Aaron Smith and two-time World Rugby Player of the Year Beauden Barrett have been solid foundations for Hansen to build upon. He has kept other performing veterans like Ben Smith and Sam Whitelock whilst not being afraid to blood young talents such as Rieko Ioane against the best opposition.

Recently however, Hansen has become a bit too overzealous about introducing new players into the fold, leading to a lack of continuity in the squad. One could argue that this is all preparation for Japan next year, where experience and squad depth will be key to clinching another world title. Or perhaps he has come to the end of his time in charge, with the team needing fresh ideas, but he will have to wait until after the World Cup in Japan next year to step away from the role.

If he did depart, then Joe Schmidt would be considered one of the front runners for the job with the recent announcement of Andy Farrell taking over the Irish team in 2019.

Schmidt has had an enormous amount of success during his tenure, winning the Six Nations Grand Slam last year and being New Zealand’s kryptonite in the Northern Hemisphere, with two victories against his native country.

A riskier option would be the current Crusaders’ coach Scott Robertson, who has managed to capture the Super Rugby title twice in his two seasons in charge. He has also worked with many of the up and coming young players that are being added into the ranks of the All Blacks squad. The only knock on him would be his lack of experience, aged just 44 years old and never having coached a senior international side.

However, if New Zealand do win a historic third consecutive world title, Hansen staying could be on the cards. He has done a tremendous job in rebuilding the Kiwi outfit after the 2015 exodus and still has an excellent record. In recent times the All Blacks have managed to peak at the World Cup, losing three and two matches respectively in the 12 months leading up to their 2011 and 2015 triumphs, so it may be part of the plan.

Regardless of who is in charge of New Zealand, they will have a plethora of players to choose from. The country is rugby mad and there is an endless conveyor belt of talent to choose from. However, a weaker New Zealand could be good for the game, with more teams being able to topple the Kiwi behemoths, making for a much more interesting international scene than we currently have.

Ryan Wan