'You're never happy when you're in the All Blacks, but they'll be satisfied'
It’s genuinely quite hard to think of any team in world sport who’s constantly under as much pressure and scrutiny as the All Blacks.
A small nation at the bottom of the world rides the highs and lows of test rugby along with their national team.
New Zealand, which was famously described as a “stadium of four million” during the bidding process for the 2011 World Cup, is obsessed with rugby union.
Legacy and passion are two words which can easily be associated with the history of the coveted black jersey, which means so much to so many people.
While becoming an All Blacks is one of the greatest honours that a New Zealander can achieve, the responsibility to do the jersey justice also generates an unrivalled level of pressure and expectation.
After a tough international campaign in 2022, which included historic losses at home to Ireland and Argentina, the All Blacks turned a corner during their end-of-season tour.
New Zealand finished their season on a seven test unbeaten run, but it didn’t erase their shortcomings from the history books.
Two-time Rugby World Cup winner Sir Steven Hansen said “you’re never happy when you’re in the All Blacks” but acknowledged the team had “make the progress they need” before the World Cup.
“What they have encountered, and for this group it’s probably the first time ever, is a bit of adversity,” Hansen told Newstalk ZB earlier this week.
“That adversity makes you hungrier, it makes you look at the mirror a lot harder and you start to have those inconvenient conversations that you don’t normally want to have and you can get away with not having them because you are winning.
“But when things are happening like they were, they’ve had to strip the whole thing back and have some really uncomfortable conversations.
“We’ve seen the changes that have come out of those conversations. We’ve also seen the players take some ownership and the coaching group take some ownership.
“I think they’ll be quietly satisfied. You’re never happy when you’re in the All Blacks, but they’ll be satisfied that they’ve made the progress they need to be going into this next block and then the World Cup.”
The All Blacks started their year with an emphatic win over Ireland at Eden Park, as they seemingly made a statement to the rest of the rugby world.
But disaster struck over the next two weeks, and brought some unwanted history with it.
Ireland beat the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time ever the week after, before repeating that feat in the series decider.
New Zealand went on to lose to South Africa in their next test match, while piled the pressure onto under fire head coach Ian Foster.
But following an epic win over the reigning World Cup champions at Ellis Park, the New Zealand Rugby Union threw their support behind Foster.
And to his credit, the 57-year-old helped the All Blacks overcome some adversity last year.
“They were tough decisions that had to be made but were made by Ian, and the ship has turned itself around and I think they go into the World Cup with quite a bit of excitement,” he added.
“They ended the year pretty positively. Apart from 10 minutes against England they really dominated that game.
“It all started earlier in the year against Ireland. I think people underestimated just how good they were. We didn’t play anywhere near how we wanted to.”
Rugby fans, let’s rejoice: it’s finally a World Cup year.
The World Cup dreams of 20 rugby nations will be put to the test in France later this year, but only one team will be crowned champions.
New Zealand haven’t tasted World Cup glory since their epic win over rivals Australia in the 2015 final at Eden Park.
As they look to win what would be a record fourth World Cup crown, the All Blacks must overcome one of their toughest opponents in pool play.
The All Blacks kick-off their World Cup in about eight months’ time against hosts France, who are also among the heavy favourites to win it all.
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