It is likely that we shall see the world number one ranked rugby nation continue where they left off in 2008, but what more to achieve?
With 10 wins from thirteen Super Rugby tournaments, statistically New Zealand teams are compelling. New Zealand TAB has three kiwi sides in their top four to win the championship. Australian centre bet has four kiwi sides in their top five to triumph.
Consider as well that every season except two, kiwi teams have provided two of the top four sides. In 2004, the Brumbies won the title when New Zealand rugby was rebuilding after the horror of the World Cup. In 2007 the Bulls won after the first half of the season saw no All Blacks fielded by the respective sides.
There are no such factors this year, with New Zealand rugby coming off a vintage 2008. The Hurricanes and Blues will field at least nine All Blacks in their starting fifteens, and Canterbury—even without Dan Carter and Robbie Deans—have the art of winning the Super 14 down to a regular art.
I tip the Hurricanes to take their maiden championship; beating the Sharks in Wellington.
Graham Henry has remarked that the All Black coaching team will be carefully monitoring the star playmakers form while playing with Perpignan. It will be a most interesting quandary, but it is unlikely that Carter will have to fight his way back onto the national team.
Even if understudy Stephen Donald or any of the other young first five’s in New Zealand rugby have brilliant seasons, it will only reap positive rewards in the long run to ensure there is class backup to a man who is considered pivotal to the All Blacks 2011 fortunes.
At the very least, Carter will be gently eased back into the New Zealand set up. His last off season was post 2007 World Cup. The most significant point will be to see if he has upgraded his considerable arsenal playing within European Rugby.
The eyes of the world will be on the Lions tour in South Africa this year. The All Blacks will open their test season with a two test series against France, their first clash since the Rugby World Cup quarter final. No doubt some measure of revenge will be inflicted. This will be followed by a one off test against Italy before the Tri Nations.
The Bledisloe Cup will be at this stage a best of three series, although there is consideration for a fourth match to be staged in Japan after the Hong Kong success last year. No doubt the Wallabies will be stronger this year, especially with Deans preparing for 2009 without the concerns of the Crusaders.
The Tri Nations will be significant for New Zealand rugby. Another trophy will see the All Blacks record their tenth crown since the tournament began in 1996.
This is compared with two tournament wins each by Australia and South Africa.
As implausible as it could be, a Tri Nations whitewash by New Zealand would see them register 45 Tri Nation’s wins, double that of either South Africa or Australia—and break the record for most consecutive Tri Nation victories.
Speaking of consecutive victories, an undefeated calendar season could see New Zealand break Argentina’s (20 wins from 1961 to 1973) and their own (19 wins from 1965 to 1970) sequences to set a world record for most consecutive international and test match wins.
Air New Zealand Cup
Sure, there was controversy in 2008. Tasman and Northland will compete in this year’s competition, despite risk of folding.
Despite rumours of lack of competition sustainability, the NZRU reacted at their final board meeting of the year and provided significant financial support to New Zealand’s 26 provincial unions. It has been acknowledged that the cost base and rugby structures of the competition need to be made more sustainable—while ensuring each union could operate “under their own steam.”
Irrespective of this, it remains the world’s premier breeding ground for rugby talent.
Canterbury won the title last year, but current Ranfurly shield holders Wellington will look to amend their record of five final losses in the last six years.
In the Heartland championship, Wanganui went unbeaten all season to win the Meads cup—effectively the second tier of NZ domestic rugby (six of their eight pool games were won by 30+ points). Poverty bay won their third straight Lochore Cup championship (the third tier).
The abbreviated form of the game takes special significance this year with the fifth Rugby World Cup sevens to be held in Dubai from March 5 to the 7. New Zealand has been drawn in Pool A with Italy, Tonga and the Arabian Gulf (the host team). The Sevens All Blacks last won in 2001, and are favourites to wrest the title from Fiji, current and two time holders.
Coach Gordon Tietjens is hoping to draw players from the Super 14, but only took three such players as All Blacks rejected the offer—this was seen as a key factor in their loss in 2005. The NZRU acts as an intermediary between the franchises and the Sevens team.
In the IRB sevens, South Africa currently leads with victories in the first two legs (Dubai and South Africa), but second placed New Zealand could take the series lead with victory on their home leg on the upcoming Wellington sevens. New Zealand have won eight of the nine IRB sevens series. It should be a far closer series this year, being decided between NZ and SA.
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