Statistically speaking, this year has been the worst in All Blacks’ history, at least as far back as many care to remember.
Not only has New Zealand’s pride and joy lost to Ireland at home for the first time ever, but they’ve also lost a home series for the first time since 1994, and slump to three losses in a row for only the fourth time in over a century. Slumping to an all-time low of fifth in the global rankings, things appeared very doom and gloom for the once invincible All Blacks.
However, this has actually been an incredibly productive year for New Zealand rugby.
In fact, one could even go as far as saying that 2022 has been the All Black’s best year yet.
Rugby Success is Undeniably Measured on World Cups
For whatever reason, World Cup success is disproportionately valued in rugby circles.
No sooner has a World Cup tournament been completed, than plans are being laid for the next one. Careers and team plans pulsate on a four-year cycle, with everything revolving around the next impending World Cup.
Given this emphasis, things like season records and global rankings fade in the face of history. Though no country likes their team to lose, the reality is, no one remembers what the Springbok’s 2017 season was like (they lost 57-0 to the All Blacks), they just remember that the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 2019, and are the current world champions.
Bottom line is, winning World Cups is what rugby’s all about.
The All Blacks Checkered History With the World Cup
Few would deny that the All Blacks are the best rugby team to have ever walked the planet.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that they are the most successful professional sports team in history, purely based off their win percentage and consistent dominance over a 100+ year span.
However, here’s the thing: The All Blacks have only won the Rugby World Cup 37.5% of the time. Those aren’t the kind of numbers the world’s most successful sports team should be posting.
So what’s been going wrong?
The Trouble With Being Favorites
Every single Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have entered overwhelming favorites.
So great has the expectation of an All Blacks win been, that the tournament has really become about avoiding failure, rather than pursuing success. Sure, pressure is healthy in competitive sports, but the pressure of constantly being overwhelming favorites, with a nation of rugby mad fans ready to haul you over the coals if you don’t live up to their expectations… That’s not the kind of pressure that typically produces great results.
It didn’t in 2007, when the All Blacks crashed out of the quarterfinals in a shock loss to France.
It didn’t in 2019, when the All Blacks were trounced in the semifinals by an English side that just wanted it more.
The reality is, every single World Cup, the All Blacks have not only had to deal with the opposition in front of them, but also the incredible weight of being expected to win the tournament.
An All Blacks Team Not Expected to Win
Jump on any bookmaker right now, and you’ll see an unusual sight.
France are the favorites to win the Rugby World Cup next year, not the All Blacks. In fact, the All Blacks are a whole 50 points behind on the moneyline, with odds of +275 for France and +325 for New Zealand at most bookmakers.
Given the All Black’s history with World Cups, this has to be healthy.
New Zealand’s failure to dominate the rugby world in 2022, their back-to-back-to-back losses, causing them to plummet as low and No.5 in the global rankings—this has all actually been incredibly good for the All Black’s chances next year. It’s good for a team to remember vividly the emotions of a loss, the bitter taste it leaves in the mouth.
Now, New Zealand get to head into the Rugby World Cup in 2023, and focus on playing their game.
The All Blacks are expected to lose in France next year.
So for once, they can head over there and try to win the Rugby World Cup.