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What the All Blacks need in order to win the World Cup in 2023

By Ben Smith
Richie McCaw lifts the Webb Ellis Cup after the All Blacks' World Cup success in 2015. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

The All Blacks era under Ian Foster has been one of historic firsts, but for the wrong reasons, as they have lumbered through since 2020 below their high standards.

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First ever losses have been suffered to Argentina, firstly on neutral soil in 2020 and then at home in 2022, while three from four Tests were lost against Ireland. Four test losses in 2022 were the most in a calendar year since 1998.

Despite the turbulence they have still retained all key trophies under Ian Foster: the Bledisloe Cup, the Freedom Cup and they have won three out of three SANZAAR championships.

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In the back half of 2022 they played their best rugby of the entire three year period as the influence of new assistants Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt took hold.

The All Blacks don’t need to be the best team in the world to win the Rugby World Cup this year, they just need the path that suits them, which is still possible.

Here is some of the keys they need to capture a fourth William Webb Ellis trophy.

Draw the Springboks in a quarter-final

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The All Blacks will have to play either Ireland, Scotland or South Africa from Pool B at the first knock-out stage.

Assuming Scotland does not qualify, the best match-up for the All Blacks is undoubtably South Africa.

Ireland clearly have Foster’s number with three wins from the last four clashes, including a series win on New Zealand soil.

Although the All Blacks have evolved a few iterations since that series, they don’t know yet whether their new formula can stop Ireland. The most probable path to the Cup likely does not go through Andy Farrell’s side.

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However, in the four clashes against the Springboks since the last World Cup the two teams have shared two wins apiece, with the victory at Ellis Park a major turning point for Foster’s side.

The All Blacks need a Springboks quarter-final over Ireland for a higher chance of progressing.

The introduction of Schmidt to the All Blacks’ brain trust has unlocked new ways of playing that found success in the second Boks test in 2022.

Tactically, the All Blacks know they have a game plan to run South Africa off their feet and would probably much prefer this match-up.

They don’t have to deal with an innovative attack that will trouble them, they can match them in the physicality stakes while knowing that if they get clicking, the Boks will tire.

Historically, the Springboks have not fared well against their traditional rivals in World Cup fixtures with just one win from six against the Wallabies and All Blacks.

After their ’95 win over New Zealand in the final, they were knocked out by Australia in the ’99 semi-final and in ’03 by New Zealand in the quarter-final.

After their ’07 win, they were knocked out by Australia in the ’11 quarter-final and in ’15 by New Zealand in the semi-final.

In ’19 they faced New Zealand in pool play and were beaten before going on to win the tournament.

South Africa’s two closest rivals have been responsible for all of their early exits at World Cups.

If history is to repeat it will be Australia or New Zealand to knock them out again, who have a combined 5 wins from 8 fixtures against South Africa over the last two years.

Settle on a preferred bench and trust the impact players

The 2022 All Blacks had two late game collapses, firstly against the Wallabies in Melbourne and then against England at Twickenham.

In those respective Tests, they held a 31-13 lead at Marvel Stadium and saw a 25-6 lead evaporate against England.

In years gone by the All Blacks would rarely fall apart holding such a commanding position heading into the final quarter.

A porous bench performance was largely influential in eventual draw against England, whilst a ton of execution errors from starters and bench players alike let the Wallabies back in the game in Melbourne.

Finding the right mix of bench players to execute in the final quarter is a necessity for the All Blacks, who haven’t settled on a definite bench strategy or preferred make-up yet.

At Twickenham the reserves were given a chance to close out the Test and failed dramatically, validating the lack of trust shown in the bench earlier in the season who were left on the pine.

The 50-second debut of Stephen Perofeta against Argentina and the underutilisation of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck through the season showed the All Blacks were not committed to playing a 23-man game yet.

However, not using all 23 players is a self-imposed disadvantage in the modern game.

The bench at the 2015 World Cup was full of difference makers for the All Blacks, most notably Beauden Barrett and Sonny Bill Williams in the backs, who were injected early into proceedings in the second forty.

Barrett scored key tries in both the semi-final and final of that campaign coming off the bench, while the early introduction of Williams in the final saw a key offload to Ma’a Nonu for a try.

The formula for the 2015 World Cup success included the way they used the bench and the quality of players on it.

The All Blacks have been unwilling to inject their outside back reserves early under Foster and that must change, whilst the overall bench has to execute far better than they did in 2022.

Beat France at the right timeĀ 

Drawing France in the pool stages means facing the world’s strongest team at home potentially twice in the same tournament to win it.

Beating them once is all that is required, but it must be in the second meeting.

Losing to France in pool play is a positive if it means the All Blacks play South Africa in the quarter-final, if they themselves top pool B.

Should the All Blacks progress past South Africa they would then face either Australia or Argentina in the semi-finals, two opponents that they know very well and would be confident of beating.

A France versus England semi-final would be likely on the other side, with France more likely to win.

If the All Blacks can secure a re-match with France in the final, they will be underdogs with far less pressure to deliver at home but with an equal chance.

The Joe Schmidt factor could improve their chances having a superb record against France as head coach of Ireland with six wins from his seven outings against them.

Win over the country again

Having the unconventional support of the country behind them, that has been missing for most of Foster’s run, would be a valuable boost for the All Blacks.

The All Blacks still enjoy a far bigger audience than the Ferns, but don’t necessarily receive the same energetic, fun-loving audience. Perhaps they can benefit from the glow of the Black Ferns’ success.

The Black Ferns magical World Cup run in 2022 won over the nation, many of whom were new rugby supporters but helped created a wave of support for the Ferns. These supporters were there for the ride and brought a new energy to the game that the Ferns fed off.

There was a connection between the team and the people that was built on infectious energy that seemed to feed both ways, with the Ferns embracing the support and attention.

The All Blacks have not united the nation in recent times and it remains to be seen whether they can achieve this type of driving force in France.

While the All Blacks won’t be playing at home, if they reconnect with the public they way the Ferns were able to, it will bring out the best of them.

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