All Blacks At The World Cup
The most amazing thing about the World Cup is that it eventuated at all and New Zealand played a huge part in the revolution that saw the tournament kick off in 1987.
Rugby had long steered clear of a tournament bringing its best teams together despite proclaiming itself a global game.
Soccer had held World Cups since the 1930s, while cricket and rugby league joined the fray in the 1970s.
Yet the International Rugby Board, so long a staunch advocate for amateur sport, was suspicious of the greed that could develop from having its elite gather under the one roof every four years.
Fortunately it took some vision and persuasive powers from either side of the Tasman to get things kicked off. With a love of the game but also a commercial vision, Australia and New Zealand were able to convince the IRB that the World Cup could, in fact, become the governing body's prime source of income and give it the financial clout to develop its global expansion.
With just two years to organise the opening tournament, Australia and New Zealand did a remarkable job and the success of the 1987 event was sealed by the All Blacks' famous 29-9 victory over France in the final at Eden Park.
The tournament was a venture into the unknown for everyone but perhaps the All Blacks had the biggest doubts. They had come off a turbulent and unsuccessful 1986 season that was highlighted by the rebel Cavaliers tour of South Africa. Coming on top of the ructions caused by the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, the All Blacks found themselves battling for support.
This was acknowledged by coach Brian Lochore, a statesman-like figure in the Kiwi game who knew his side had plenty to do on the PR front.
"But most importantly we realized that the only real way to win back the fans was by playing a good brand of winning rugby," he said.
"We started well against Italy and it snowballed from there."
The campaign grew with each outing as the All Blacks scored 43 tries to lift the cup.
They comfortably won their pool, accounted for Scotland 30-3 in the quarter-finals, smashed Wales 49-6 and then battled past a dogged French side to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time.
That honour went to David Kirk, the courageous little halfback who had taken over the leadership of the side when originals captain Andy Dalton was ruled out with a practice injury before the tournament even started.
The 1987 All Blacks quickly became the standard bearer for the international game and this side launched one of the most successful periods in All Black history.
The careers of Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke were launched, Sean Fitzpatrick, and Grant Fox established themselves as stalwart internationals and the mix of hard men like Wayne Shelford and Joe Stanley meant the men in black became a irresistible force.
But that would fade on the eve of the next World Cup, hosted by England but also bringing in its Five Nations friends for additional venues.
It was a tournament too far for the All Blacks as an aging side, uncomfortably co-coached by Alex Wyllie and John Hart, looked vulnerable during pool play and were eventually undone by Australia 16-6 in the semifinal at Dublin's Lansdowne Road.
Australia went on to win the 1991 World Cup and, in doing so, they had effectively ended an era in All Blacks rugby.
Retirements were the order of the day, including coach Wyllie who had enjoyed an 86.2% win rate during 29 tests in charge.
With rugby now firmly entrenched in the four yearly World Cup cycle, Laurie Mains was given the job for preparing the side for the 1995 event in South Africa.
It took Mains all of his time to find the right formula but when the All Blacks arrived in the republic for the tournament, he appeared to have a potent side capable of regaining the trophy.
With the experienced Fitzpatrick leading on the field, Mains encouraged a bunch of young stars to strut their stuff. Josh Kronfeld, Andrew Mehrtens and Jeff Wilson stamped their names on the game but it was Jonah Lomu who took the tournament by storm as the All Blacks played an expansive game that gave the giant wing plenty of opportunities.
He took four of them against England in the 45-29 semifinal demolition in Cape Town in what must be regarded as the finest individual World Cup performance.
But sadly the All Blacks couldn't get the ball to the big man when it mattered most, in the final against South Africa at Ellis Park. Struck down by a mystery illness, the All Blacks struggled against the gritty Springboks. It became a war of attrition that went all the way to extra time. In the end Joel Stransky clinched it for South Africa - playing their first World Cup since coming back from isolation - with a dropgoal to earn a 15-12 win.
This was arguably the best World Cup and justification for playing the tournament in one country for the first time. Rugby-mad South Africa, with its great weather, magnificent stadiums and fanatical support had taken things to a new level.
The IRB went back to a multi-nation approach for the 1999 event, handing the rights to Wales but with England, Scotland, Ireland and France also hosting matches. The result was a massive income approaching $150m but a tournament lacking in passion and presence.
The All Blacks were a bit that way themselves. They dominated their pool, including an impressive 30-16 defeat of England at Twickenham. But they looked wobbly in getting past Scotland 30-18 in the quarter-finals and then got upset 43-31 by France in a London semifinal.
The French produced a half hour of rugby that only they could muster. The All Blacks had no answer and were then left to the embarrassment of a 22-18 defeat by South Africa in the play-off for third and fourth, a match neither side appeared too interested in.
New Zealand's fourth place finish was their worst effort in four World Cups and a major disappointment for a side that had dominated the international game during 1996 and 1997. But the loss through injury and retirement of Fitzpatrick, Brooke, Frank Bunce and Olo Brown had proved how difficult it is to retain the right mix of a core of experience and youthful exuberance to lift the trophy.
Australia had no such difficulties. With staunch defence they worked their way to the final and outgunned a disappointing French side to win the World Cup for the second time.
The All Blacks entered the 2003 event with high expectations after an unbeaten Tri Nations campaign that included returning the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand for the first time since 1998.
As expected the All Blacks dominated their pool, running up big wins against Italy, Canada and Tonga before surviving a tough test against Wales.
That set them up for a quarter-final against South Africa, a team they had never beaten at the World Cup. But John Mitchell's men made history with a 29-9 win, the team dominating on the back of a superb display from the forwards.
Defending champions Australia were the semifinal hurdle. The Wallabies had looked wobbly during the tournament but turned up the heat to destroy the All Blacks' hopes of ending their 16-year World Cup drought with a 22-10 win in Sydney.
New Zealand recovered to put up a gutsy display in the difficult third-place play-off, beating France 40-13 to claim the bronze medal.
In the final England earned the northern hemipshere their first World Cup with a dreamatic 20-17 win over Australia. Jonny Wilkinson kicked a last minute drop goal to break the deadlock after the teams had been level at 14-all at the end of normal time and 17-all towards the end of the extra time period.
The All Blacks finished the tournament with the most points that included a record 52-try haul. Mils Muliaina and Doug Howlett were the top individual try-scorers with seven each, one more than Joe Rokocoko who took his season tally to a record 17 with an impressive World Cup campaign.
In 2004, Graham Henry was appointed All Black coach. Between this time and the World Cup, the All Blacks assembled the most dominant period ever seen by a team in rugby history.
They recorded a 38-5 win loss record, never losing the Bledisloe Cup in this time, and against the Wallabies they went unbeaten from August 2004 to June 2007. They won the Tri Nations in 2005 (and have not lost it since) compiling an 11-3 record over this time.
They also would not lose to Northern Hemisphere opposition in this period, and would not lose at home.
The 2007 World Cup would be staged in France, who beat England to win the hosting rights. Matches would also be held in Scotland and Wales.
The All Blacks entered the tournament, now on a 16 year drought (since losing the Cup in 1991) as the heaviest betting favourites of any World Cup. They brought a stable team whose only major player loss in four years was the international retirement of All Black captain and centre Tana Umaga.
The team also headed in with a squad of 30 world class players as Henry had achieved a goal of developing at least two test level players for every position in the team.
With Richie McCaw leading the team, they would sweep through their pool. Heavy victories over Italy, Portugal, Scotland and Romania would see New Zealand top their pool.
Their 309 points in pool play set a new World Cup record for most points scored in pool stages. Doug Howlett would also become the new All Black try scoring record holder, notching a hat-trick to take his total to 49, overtaking Christian Cullen.
They would then play France in the quarter finals, which had been upset by Argentina in the opening match of the tournament.
The quarter final was held on neutral territory in Cardiff.
After the All Blacks were in control of the match at halftime, the French staged a remarkable comeback. Les Bleus would triumph 20-18 in a day of high theatre at the tournament when earlier the English upset the Wallabies.
Statistics would later reveal that the All Blacks dominated significantly in every aspect of the game, including making just 57 tackles to France’s 269 – which led the famous French news headline “Le blues s'attaquer All Blacks de la Coupe du monde” (The French tackle All Blacks out of World Cup).
In just five matches the All Blacks would score 48 tries, the most of any country. More telling, they kicked just five penalties, ranked 14th of all nations – indicative of their attacking and entertaining mindset.
The quarter final exit would be their worst result at a World Cup.
New Zealand's World Cup Record
Pool: b Italy 70-6, b Fiji 74-13, b Argentina 46-15. Quarter-final: b Scotland 30-3. Semifinal: b Wales 49-6. Final: b France 29-9.
Pool: b England 18-12, b United States 46-6, b Italy 31-21. Quarter-final: b Canada 29-13. Semifinal: lost to Australia 6-16. Play-off for third: b Scotland 13-6.
Pool: b Ireland 43-19, b Wales 34-9, b Japan 145-17. Quarter-final: b Scotland 48-30. Semifinal: b England 45-29. Final: lost to South Africa 12-15.
Pool: b Tonga 45-9, b England 30-16, b Italy 101-3. Quarter-final: b Scotland 30-18. Semifinal: lost to France 31-43. Play-off for third: lost to South Africa 18-22.
Pool: b Italy 70-7, b Canada 68-6, b Tonga 91-7, b Wales 53-37. Quarter-final: b South Africa 29-9. Semifinal: lost to Australia 10-22. Play-off for third: b France 43-10.
Pool: b Italy 76-14, b Portugal 108-13, b Scotland 40-0, b Romania 85-8. Quarter-Final: lost to France 18-20.