Rugby World Cup France 2007

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

All Blacks are strong candidates for the World Cup Title

After a really prolific 2005, the All Blacks were even better this past season in an increasingly destined march to next year's Rugby World Cup title.

Indeed, New Zealand enjoyed 12 wins in 13 Tests, mirroring 2005 with only one loss, but without a Grand Slam tour of the United Kingdom or a series win over the British and Irish Lions to parade.

We must keep in mind that the All Blacks handled Ireland at home and Argentina in Buenos Aires with two squads, won an expanded Tri-Nations with two games to spare, and swept another end-of-season European tour, dropping record 40-point wins on France, England and even Wales.

So, by year's end, coach Graham Henry had used 46 players, 23 of whom scored tries, underscoring the belief of many who think the All Blacks not only have the best team in the world, but the second-best as well. They finished a third straight year ranked number one, with a record gap on second-ranked France.

We must remember that France coach Bernard Laporte warned in November that the World Cup it will host will be a bore if nobody stops the All Blacks. His team couldn't, succumbing 47-3 in Lyon and 23-11 in Paris.

"As far as we are concerned we ticked the boxes we wanted to tick," Henry admitted.

That's why next year will mark 20 years since New Zealand won the inaugural World Cup, and its desperation to end disappointing outcomes in the succeeding 1991, 1995, 1999 and 2003 campaigns has allowed Henry unprecedented latitudes.

His policy of rotating the team players was criticised for devaluing the All Black jersey and insulting opponents. But New Zealanders have grown to accept Henry's way, which has netted 32 wins in 36 Tests since 2004, an unbeaten home record, and kept his squad fresh, deep and hungry to play.

Furthermore, Henry also arranged for 22 All Blacks to miss the first two months of next year's Super 14, setting aside provincial aspirations to the anger of the tournament sponsor, so they'll be in prime condition for the World Cup.

Nobody ever know what can happen in Rugby, but they are strong favorites for most of the fans.