Reasons to be fearful
June 9, 2011
All Black supporters will hope McCaw's not watching on come September © Getty Images
After Richie McCaw's troublesome metatarsal injury once again reared its head, Scrum Sevens looks at some of the factors that will worry New Zealand's rugby watching public ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which is now less than 100 days away.
World Cup chief Martin Snedden recently nailed his colours to the mast by exclaiming that most of the expected 85,000 people journeying to the tournament "didn't give a toss" whether the All Blacks won or lost. It is fair to say he does not speak on the behalf of his fellow New Zealanders, however, who will be hoping for plain sailing for their beloved team.
An injury to captain Richie McCaw
McCaw is still the inspirational fulcrum around which the other 14 starting All Blacks pivot. His Super Rugby season has been blighted by injury and while his deputy at the Crusaders, Matt Todd, has performed superbly, there is no substitute for the three-time IRB World Player of the Year. Other potential replacements include Daniel Braid, who has also struggled with injury all season, while the Highlanders' outstanding flanker Adam Thomson has also caused a few ripples with a couple of knocks. Thomson hasn't played a Test since June last year but has been brilliant for the Highlanders this term, although he's just not Richie, is he?
The French have been the monsters under the bed for a generation of New Zealand fans following their exploits in two previous World Cups, 1999 and 2007, and the All Blacks will find themselves up against Les Bleus in their second group game. In 1999, in what is widely regarded as one of the best 80 minutes of rugby ever played, France came back from 24-10 down to record a 43-31 win over the All Blacks, despite Jonah Lomu's best efforts. In 2007, France beat the favourites in Cardiff in a game wrought with controversy. You can add 'forward passes' to the list of potential All Black pitfalls following a dubious winning try from Yannick Jauzion. France went on to be knocked out by England in the semi-finals, but the New Zealand public vented their frustration against English referee Wayne Barnes as the culprit for their premature exit.
Carter gets crocked
As with McCaw, the fitness of talismanic fly-half Dan Carter will be essential for a successful World Cup campaign for Graham Henry's side. Carter has struggled with injuries on occasions this season but has shown signs of being at his mercurial best. The predominant worry is the lack of strength in depth at 10, as it is at openside. Colin Slade is injured while usual stand-in Stephen Donald is struggling with poor form. Aaron Cruden seemed to be the immediate choice to replace Carter but he has been exiled since last summers' Tri-Nations. Luke McAlister still seems uneasy at 10 and his fellow Blues player Stephen Brett is yet to fulfil his potential. Decisions, decisions. Anyone got Nick Evans' number?
Winning the Tri-Nations
No team that has won the Tri-Nations has gone on to claim the following World Cup. New Zealand have fared well in the competition in recent years and won it in the three previous World Cup years, 2007, 2003 and 1999. Superstitious All Black supporters will perhaps hope for the unthinkable - not to see their team lift the Tri-Nations trophy in hope it will break their World Cup hoodoo. Springboks captain John Smit has recently echoed this view and highlighted the difficulty of winning both. "One perspective is that no team has won the Tri-Nations and then the World Cup in the same year. The peaking scenario is mostly mental, but you have to make sure your body can follow through on that," Smit said.
The previous World Cup in France saw a record attendance and while stadium capacities mean another record is out of the question this time around, the organisers of the 2011 tournament will still hope to cash in with ticket revenue their only way of recouping the cost of staging the tournament. After the Christchurch earthquake in February, around £10m worth of tickets had to be refunded due to the games being relocated. Ticket sales for the rescheduled games are said to be going well but following a World Cup in France where a match between Georgia and Namibia attracted a crowd of 32,000, New Zealand's organisers will have to go some in order to ensure that the public embrace the tournament in the same manner.
No post-2011 clear out
After the failure at the 2007 World Cup, All Black supporters hoped to see a new era of All Black coaches heralded in, with fans favourite Robbie Deans at the helm. However, Graham Henry survived a stay of execution and kept the head coach position - winning two Tri-Nations and two Grand Slam tours in the intervening years. His current assistant, Steve Hansen, is rumoured to be interested in the post if it becomes available, but New Zealand supporters are likely to call for a completely new set-up should they fall short of the winning post once again.
The organisers of the World Cup have put together a temporary 'Party Central' in Auckland for the supporters who will flock to the country to support their team. 'The Cloud' is an area fit to house 6,000 fans, costing £4.9m. However, with all manner of supporters turning up, and following the British & Irish Lions' fans ability to drink Durban dry two years ago, do they really know what they have let themselves in for? Twickenham-esque queues for beverages will be the stuff of nightmares and tournament organisers will hope the service will be swift behind the bars to minimise grumbles and keep Mr. Snedden from wading in and dispensing beer fireman-style.
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