Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport. He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.Read more exclusive columns
2019 World Cup is wide open - Jim Kayes.
allblacks.com 18 Nov 2018 Getty Images
Add to that mix Wales and France (forget any form they might take into the tournament because history shows it’s irrelevant) and that’s five countries who could realistically win the World Cup.
Australia could too but would need to rediscover a consistency in performance that’s been missing in recent years, while Argentina and Scotland should feature in the playoffs, but perhaps not the final.
As for the All Blacks, well they haven’t had a vintage year by their standards, but they are still likely to finish with just the two defeats - to South Africa and Ireland (sorry Italy who are up next weekend).
And they will undoubtedly go to Japan next year as most people’s favourites.
But there are concerns from the last two Tests. It used to be that the All Blacks pulled away in the final quarter, that their fitness, skill level and impact from the bench was too much for other teams to cope with.
It could be argued that Ireland and England both finished stronger than the All Blacks.
There’s a concern around the All Blacks attack, and in particular the kicking game. Do they kick too much or have they just kicked poorly in London and Dublin?
There are worries too about some of the senior players like Sonny Bill Williams, skipper Kieran Read and halfback Aaron Smith. Read and Smith are playing well, but not to their previous lofty levels.
Read still seems to be working his way back from his back surgery and you’d have to think that a summer off and a better lead in to next year’s action will help a lot.
And the good news for All Blacks fans is that people worried about Richie McCaw and Dan Carter heading into the last World Cup, and they did pretty well there.
Steve Hansen knows how to manage his players and will have them peaking in Japan. This year was a slog. It was always going to be.
That’s not to in any way diminish Ireland’s win. They were missing several key players and still played superbly, keeping the All Blacks tryless for the first time since last year’s second Test against the British and Irish Lions.
No surprise that the defence coach then, and now, is Andy Farrell.
But nothing that happens before a World Cup matters during the tournament. Heck, France showed in 2011 that even a heavy loss in pool play was irrelevant when it came to the final.
In 2011 the All Blacks lost to South Africa leading into the World Cup and in 2015 were beaten by Australia but went on to win both tournaments.
So the loss to Ireland is far from catastrophic, but it does reinforce the belief Ireland no longer suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to taking on the All Blacks.
England, South Africa, France and Australia have always rated their chances against the men in black so next year’s tournament is far from a done deal.
The All Blacks have a terrific opening fixture against South Africa and a quarterfinal against probably Ireland or Scotland. All three of those matches are tough to pick.
But World Cups are a different beast to the Rugby Championship or November tours. The pressure is different, more intense and it’s on all the top teams, not just the All Blacks. Next year’s is in Japan, not Dublin, so it’s a level playing field. And the All Blacks won’t be at the end of their year.
Yes, Ireland have reinforced the fact the World Cup is wide open, but for me one thing hasn’t changed. Whoever wins the World Cup, if it’s not the All Blacks, will have beaten them to do so.