Rugby in 2015: New Zealand’s World Cup success a testament to their dominance
Japan’s heart-warming pool stage victory over heavyweights South Africa will go down as the biggest shock in competition history. However, it is the continued dominance of champions New Zealand that defined rugby in 2015.
The All Blacks became the first nation to retain the William Webb Ellis Cup by defeating Trans-Tasman rivals Australia in the final and have now won rugby’s top prize a record three times.
New Zealand’s sporting feats are all the more remarkable given that the country has an estimated population of just over 4.5 million people.
The All Blacks were accused of choking on the grand stage after losing to France in the 1999 semifinal and 2007 quarterfinal, despite being favorites in both games. However, the team in black ended a long 24-year wait to become rugby champions in 2011, beating France in the final at Eden Park, Auckland.
Although the All Blacks started relatively unconvincingly in the group stages this year, Steve Hansen’s men clicked into gear at the right time.
Their poise in periods of pressure and control of the game was typified by the efforts of mercurial fly-half Dan Carter and skipper Richie McCaw, while electrifying wingers Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea provided incision out wide.
New Zealand have been the world’s number one ranked team since November 16, 2009, and have held the top spot for 86 percent of the time since rankings were first introduced in October of 2003.
They are the only team to have never lost a pool match at the Rugby World Cup and have made it to the semifinals in 7 out of 8 World Cups – their worst performance was in 2007, when they lost in the quarterfinals.
Their challenge now is to overcome the departures of key figures such as Carter and McCaw, while experienced heads such as Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith have also played their last game for the All Blacks.
Super Rugby is another hallmark of New Zealand’s dominance, with an all-Kiwi 2015 final between the table-topping Hurricanes and eventual victors, the Highlanders.
Four of the top seven positions in this year’s edition of the tri-nation tournament were filled by New Zealand, with two from Australia, and one from South Africa also in the mix.
The fact that all four Rugby World Cup semi-finalists were from the Southern Hemisphere shows the imbalance of power in equatorial terms, but New Zealand remains the overarching dominant force in the global game.