As the All Blacks prepare to unveil their new World Cup jersey and the clock ticks down to a tournament start in Japan – less than three months – the question on many people’s minds is what it will take for Steve Hansen’s men to win another.
For two-time World Cup winner and former All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, the answer isn’t difficult. “Playing well when it counts – that’s the key,” he told the New Zealand Herald in a case of a no-nonsense player and leader breaking a potentially complicated scenario down to its most basic form.
“You have all the right structures and how you want to play but it’s about being able to execute that when it counts. It comes down to three big Saturdays and not getting ahead of yourself when it comes to your quarter-final. That’s your last game, effectively, and then you’ve got to earn the right to another one.
“The big thing in those games is that it might be one or two moments that make the difference and it’s about being able to deal with them. The teams that do that are the ones that are there at the end.
“It’s not magic-out-of-the-hat type stuff, it’s just about being able to execute when those opportunities come and if you can do that three weekends in a row you’ll be in for a pretty good shout.”
— SARugbyChick (@SARugbyChick) June 27, 2019
About to guide New Zealand at a World Cup for the final time, Hansen has suggested after being heavily involved in the last two triumphs that this edition will be the most open yet. McCaw agrees. He believes any of the top five or six nations could win.
McCaw played 148 tests; his last game was that memorable final victory over Australia at Twickenham four years ago. He no longer owns a pair of rugby boots – he had to borrow some for a Mastercard promotion at Ponsonby Rugby Club.
But he remains a compelling figure for his longevity, leadership, success rate, work ethic and incredible ability to break through the pain barrier time and again, including playing on a broken foot during the 2011 World Cup.
What would he tell his players if he was part of the current leadership group heading into this one? Again, the message is simple: Stick together no matter what.
“The big thing about a World Cup knockout game especially, and you could probably throw the first game against South Africa in as well, is that they’re different to any other test match,” he said. “Not so much the game itself but the things around it and the opposition – what they’ll throw at you because it’s their opportunity and they want to win as well. Because of that it changes slightly.
“But I think having a leadership group that will know they’ve got each other’s backs so that when the heat comes on you have guys doing the right things and making the right decisions. Everyone will have times when it’s a bit tough and will have challenges that come their way, even in-game … but if you [help each other] and stick to the plan, I think that’s key.”
WATCH: Part one of the two-part RugbyPass documentary on what fans can expect in Japan at this year’s World Cup
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