New Zealand Rugby and Their Foes' Love Hate Relationship

James MortimerAnalyst IJanuary 31, 2009

As the Southern Hemisphere season begins, New Zealand rugby fans are talking up their teams, while other fans like to point out to a possible fall from grace.


It presents the basic question, why do New Zealand rugby fans always gloat about their chances for the Super 14, and the preceding Tri Nations?  Is it arrogance?


It is because they have become accustomed to success.


The two national opponents in these tournaments—South Africa and Australia—are quick to point out what is a hard unyielding fact.  How many World Cups do you hold?


But I think it is important to qualify the words “World Cup.”  Do you have to beat the world to win it?  And like the majority of world titles, do you need to put it up for title defence? 


The answer to both is no.


In fact, history is showing that a World Cup can be quite easy to win, which in itself could be interpreted as a damning statement on the pride of the All Blacks. 


Because, how many of the top nine nations of the world do you need to defeat to win it (for arguments sake the Tri and Six Nations sides).


In 2007 South Africa played just the one, England twice.


The preceding tournament in 2003 was a lot harder to win, with the English needing to defeat South Africa, Wales, France and then Australia.  Australia also needed to beat four of the “Top Nine” to win in 1999, but both of these triumphs occurred without having to cross the paths of New Zealand.


Surely John Eales, Martin Johnson and John Smit could not contain their glee when other nations knocked out the All Blacks?


But, past is past, and despite all good theory, New Zealand has only won the solitary title.


Is the World Cup all important? 


Absolutely not, simply because the Tri Nations and Six Nations titles are multi-team international test tournaments that are far harder to win than a World Cup.  The latter has a history that can be traced back nearly 100 years before the inaugural World Cup tournament. 


If you honestly asked South Africa or Australia would they prefer to play a World Cup to try and win, or play each other and the All Blacks three times to win a trophy, it would be an obvious answer. 


Maybe the answer would be the more obvious because they could assume that World Cups are the All Blacks bogey championship.


So, it is fair to say that World Cups, Tri Nations and Six Nations are indicative of a nations world standing, in no particular order.  There are the pre-eminent championships involving more than two nations.


It is also prudent to add the Heineken Cup and the Super 14—because these “domestic or provincial” championships are in effect international competitions in their own right.


So from 1987, there have been six World Cups, 22 Six Nations, 13 Tri Nations, 13 Heineken Cups, and 13 Super 14 titles.   


In the Northern Hemisphere, England and France has won 14 of these titles each.  On paper, this would be a fair indication of European ascendency, as these nations have been dominant in the modern era.  It is a difficult quarrel to say the English have been the supreme nation by virtue of their World Cup win—certainly this has no bearing based on their recent form.


Wales have four (all six nations), Ireland has three (all Heineken Cups), and Scotland has two (1990 and 1999 Six Nations titles). 


In the South, the three great powers tell a far different tale.  The current World Champions South Africa has won five of these titles.  The Wallabies have won six titles.  Two of these are World Cup trophies each, but does it amount for world supremacy?


Perhaps, but that is hard to say when New Zealand wields 20 titles.  Only one World Cup maybe, but is it only such a dismal statistic when considering that they were expected to win many more?


Comparisons abound regarding the Tri Nations/Super 14 versus the Six Nations/Heineken Cup.  There is no easy game in the Tri Nations, and very few in the Super 14.  Some editions of the northern championships have seen games where a result is all but guaranteed. 


But when we think that New Zealand, South Africa and Australia have consistently been the three superpowers of world rugby, it is a lopsided to think that in major championships New Zealand teams have won more than three times more titles than their SANZAR antagonists.


This fact again indicates that the All Blacks should have won far more World Cups.  But it also designates that it is a heavily flawed assertion that South Africa or Australia are better nations based on their double Webb Ellis trophies.


No doubt All Black fans would follow their team to the fiery depths of hell itself if so required, as much as opposing supporters would happily damn the team to such a place if it meant avoiding their path.


But even if you must carry such odium toward New Zealand teams, even the most stringent must grudgingly pay their respects.