By Howard Johnson
After losing to Australia by 25 points to 20 in Brisbane and handing the Wallabies their first Tri-Nations title in a decade, there have been plenty of pundits who have been quick to raise the spectre of New Zealand blowing their lines when the World Cup gets underway this Friday. I have to admit, for any of us who don’t have silver ferns tattooed on our hearts, it’s tempting to put your faith in these All Black naysayers. After all, who doesn’t like to see a Goliath brought down by a David? Who doesn’t like to see a sporting big shot brought down a peg or two? And who doesn’t like to imagine that in some lunatic parallel rugby universe it will be Canada and Japan, not New Zealand and France who will qualify from Pool A for the knockout stage?
The reality, however, threatens to be somewhat different. I remember interviewing that great old gentleman of association football Bobby Robson many years back. What a lovely old chap he was, still full of child-like enthusiasm for his sport after a lifetime immersed in it, plotting out his greatest ever footy team on the back of a paper napkin as if there was nothing he’d rather be doing and nowhere he’d rather be than talking to a club reporter in a noisy sports bar in London. I can’t remember exactly who made his definitive World XI, but something that Bobby said that day has stuck with me through the years. When we were discussing various teams’ prospects for some upcoming footy tournament or other he was bigging up the chances of whichever host nation it happened to be. I can’t honestly remember. When I asked him why – clearly because I didn’t think this particular team was much cop – he asked me a straightforward question.
“Would you be more comfortable interviewing me in my house or in yours?” The simplicity of the scenario immediately struck home as I realised Bobby was absolutely right. We’re all more comfortable, more relaxed and more confident in an environment that we know intimately. New Zealand are at home for the duration of the 2011 World Cup, whereas everyone else is away. And whether we like it or not that will give the All Blacks a massive natural advantage as they attempt to get their hands on the Webb Ellis trophy for the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1987. It’s the only time that the All Blacks, by miles the most consistently-impressive international rugby outfit over the last 25 years, have won the sport’s ultimate prize. And where did they win it? In New Zealand, of course. It’s not a co-incidence.
Home advantage isn’t a cast-iron guarantee of success, though. Any takers for a bet on Japan winning the 2019 World Cup? Thought not. But if you’ve got yourself a half-decent outfit to work with, then home advantage can be a major factor in tilting the odds in your favour. Would South Africa have won the 1995 tournament if they hadn’t been riding a tidal wave of national emotion following the collapse of apartheid? Would England have reached the Final in ’91 had the competition not been held in their own country? And ditto Australia in 2003? It’s not at all certain.
So if the All Blacks were nothing but a bunch of muppets, then all the home comforts in the world wouldn’t make a blind bit of difference. But it’s fair to say that Graham Henry’s men have more than a sprinkling of talent in their ranks and being in their own back yard will only give them even greater confidence that they really can go out and get the job done this time. There is a school of thought doing the rounds just now that the extra pressure of every Kiwi and his dog demanding that the All Blacks bring home the bacon will have a stultifying effect on the home team. Not according to fly half Dan Carter, though, who reckons the country’s rugby-obsessed public will actually give the men wearing the shirt a massive boost.
“To see all the support we’ve had around the country has been fantastic,” says Carter. “That really lifts the guys.” Which is unfortunate for the likes of me. I freely admit that I’d love to see the irritating cult of the All Blacks shown a lesson in humility, but pressure = failure looks to me like an equation that’s born more out of wishful thinking than solid logic.
Losing the Tri Nations to the Wallabies (the team New Zealanders would least like to see win this World Cup) might actually have done the All Blacks a favour, giving them a timely kick up the arse just before the serious business gets underway, allowing them to re-focus and get their game heads on. Damn shame, if you ask me. But we can always live in hope, can’t we?!
Gilbert has released a new line of rugby cleats. The Gilbert Virtuo 8S is part of the exciting new product. Check it out.
The Barbarians are one of the top invitational rugby sides with a long history and classic rugby jersey.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
The Lions get ready for their matches with this green training jersey. It's what the players wear. Get in the Gear!
A cool looking all black rugby cleat with the high performance adidas is known for. Get in the Gear!
Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
The Lions are ready to get their Australia tour underway. They arrive in Perth on Monday.
The New Zealand All Blacks training jersey for 2013/14. Get in the Gear!
The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.