The All Blacks remain the #1 ranked nation in the world, but have they peeked too soon in the World Cup cycle? They clearly have not been as dominant this year so let’s have a look at their record since the last world cup and compare it to previous cycles.
The All Blacks have had this reputation for peaking between world cups and for choking in the main event. A lot of this talk was put to bed in 2011 when New Zealand won their second World Cup on home soil.
Even so one swallow doesn’t make a summer or a leopard doesn’t change its spots, cultures are not always changed just because one time something different happens. Especially if you look at the World Cup final where New Zealand only won by 1 point, it was hardly a dominating performance.
Hansen has obviously put a positive spin on things but has said that New Zealand have been winning or drawing “ugly”. So let’s have a look at the last 3 seasons since the world cup, they also are Hansen’s entire reign as head coach:
From a pure results point of view obviously this year is not as good as 2013, but then as 2013 was a perfect year it’s hard to stay at that level. But if you look at some of the other numbers, you could say that 2012 was the best year. Points for has come down slightly but it’s the points against that has changed more dramatically. At the end of the day it’s only 3 more points a game or a single penalty.
So whilst it feels like teams have been getting closer and pushing the All Blacks harder, the points differential is 14 per game just slightly down on 15 last year. The stats are amazingly consistent and whilst the All Blacks defence is perhaps not quite as strong, they are still over 2 converted tries a game better than their opponents.
So how does Hansen’s tenure compare to Henry’s?
Let’s just have a quick look at the last 2 world cup cycles to see is there is anything to learn there:
Interestingly enough the first cycle (2004-2006) of Henry’s leadership was also very consistent, only losing 1 or 2 games each season. The points difference did vary a bit more getting up to 24 points a game in 2005, marrying a jump in points for and a very low points against. But sitting at around 16-17 points in the other years which is very similar to now.
2007 numbers look great and yet it will be remembered as a disappointing year. The points and tries stats get greatly inflated by the opponents that the All Blacks played in the world cup. Normally the All Blacks will play 1 lower tier nation such as USA this year. In 2007 they played Canada, Portugal and Romania (the latter two at the world cup) making those numbers fairly useless for comparison. Still the All Blacks only lost 2 games, once to Australia and once to France, it just happens that the France game was a world cup quarter final.
So was there a dip in form? Not really they just lost two games rather than one.
So let’s have a look at a winning cycle, this one actually looks worse. They lost 4 games in 2009, the only time they have lost more than 2 games! That was also the only year they dropped below 3 tries per game and the difference per game dropped below 10.
Also if you compare 2011 to 2007, both years they lost 2 games. Just in 2011 they didn’t lose an important one i.e. a knockout game at a world cup. Their scoring numbers aren’t as good in 2011 as 2007 but it will be remembered as a much better year.
So the three years running up to a world cup for the All Blacks are no indicator as to how they will do. Also the season stats for the world cup year are no indicator. This isn’t a team that has any psychological issues with beating other teams, they have done it already. They already have put down markers against all the other teams. So there is nothing that they need to do in the years running up to a world cup in the same way England needed to before the 2003 world cup. At the end of the day all that matters for New Zealand are 3 knockout games. Win those and 4 years has been good, lose 1 and it’s a failure.
Let’s be clear even though the All Blacks have been wining ugly this year and having to out last opponents, they are still clearly the best team in the world. They will go into next year’s world cup as outstanding favourites. But they have been beaten, if only twice in 42 games and so could lose one of those three important games. There is not really much we can take out of their performance over these last three seasons in predicting the next world cup except that they will again go in as favourites.