Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Forecast is good but pray for reign

Adam Thomson will be named in this year's highly regarded World Cup squad. Photo / Getty Images
Adam Thomson will be named in this year's highly regarded World Cup squad. Photo / Getty Images

Regardless of who ends up in the 30, the All Blacks will name a squad on Tuesday that is more than capable of winning the World Cup.

For once, their status as favourites will be deserved and it will be no surprise if they thump the Wallabies in Brisbane just to confirm their superiority. It would also be no surprise if they were bundled out of the World Cup in the quarter-final.

When it comes to World Cups and the All Blacks, it is always best to keep an open mind. They have pulled off the impossible in the last three tournaments - losing to teams they had previously beaten in their sleep.

No one knows how to bomb from a great height like the All Blacks, and yet there will be so many reasons to be optimistic, confident even, when New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle reveals the squad.

The final places will be determined by what happened overnight in Port Elizabeth.

The areas still open were deciding which two of Cory Jane, Hosea Gear, Israel Dagg, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Zac Guildford to cull from the back three.

The loose forwards carried an element of doubt heading into the test overnight - four were locked in but the fifth spot was still open. The prospect of calling in a second specialist openside had not been shelved.

Regardless of whether he shapes up at No7 or not, Adam Thomson will be named. It is Liam Messam whose place is in jeopardy. He could be sacrificed for a specialist seven or possibly even for Victor Vito who was a surprise call up.

A decision has to be made on whether to name the injured Anthony Boric and hope he recovers in time or to persevere with the promising Jarrad Hoeata.

Corey Flynn will be nervous - unsure whether he has done enough to remain the third hooker (he probably has) and John Afoa will be similarly nervous about the threat of Wyatt Crockett, although the scrummaging penalties incurred against the Wallabies may have cooked the Cantabrian's goose.

Whatever the final wash-up, the All Blacks will have the look of a title-winning squad. Opponents will scan them hard for weakness and not find much. Every box is ticked in a way they probably weren't in 2007. Injury to Daniel Carter remains the only real concern but at least now Colin Slade has some confidence and experience of big game football.

They have choice in the back three with kickers and catchers to play the Boks, English and other high-ball specialists and runners and finishers to slot in against the likes of Australia, Wales, Samoa and Ireland.

They have two genuine test centres in Conrad Smith and Richard Kahui so have surely eliminated the possibility of a fullback being drafted into the midfield as has been the case at the previous three World Cups.

In Ma'a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams, they have the two most potent ball carriers in world rugby, a loose forward trio without peer, depth at lock where Ali Williams might have to settle for a bench role and a front row that is rock-solid regardless of who is on the field.

The abrasiveness of the pack is such that they can play a game focused on winning turnover ball and dominating the collision or they can make it all about the scrum and let Carter steer them around the field with his boot. Tactically they have all the weaponry they need and Carter can even drop goals these days. But that is not enough reason to believe they can win the World Cup.

They had all that last time round - except for the drop goals - and as has been witnessed all too painfully, World Cups are more about the mental than the physical.

No one will know for sure until the tournament gets to the pointy end but maybe the All Blacks have fixed, or at least vastly improved, some of the areas that were exposed at the last tournament.

Unlike in 2007, the coaches this time round know their best team and the value of that is hard to overstate. Continuity of selection has given them combinations across the park and greater fluidity.

Under pressure they work intuitively, and read each other better now than they ever did in 2007. They escaped with late victories in Sydney and Soweto last year on the strength of their innate understanding and ability to trust each other. But the biggest breakthrough they have made is finally understanding that all they have achieved since the last World Cup counts for nothing.

The 10 consecutive victories against Australia, the fact they haven't lost to England, Wales or Ireland in that period and won the Tri Nations in 2008 and 2010, is all irrelevant when they reach the World Cup. The mistake they have made in the past has been to draw some psychological comfort from their superiority leading into the tournament.

Somewhere in All Black heads has sat an immovable sense of what could described as complacency. They haven't been arrogant or cocky, they have just believed that their success before the tournament would automatically lead to success at the tournament.

That it clearly doesn't is a point Henry will make to his squad again once they are all gathered in Brisbane. The All Blacks can only train with 26 but the other four World Cup members will join the squad later in the week.

That's when things will switch into World Cup mode. This All Blacks squad has everything they need to break the 24-year drought, something the rest of the world will conclude on Tuesday when they see the strength of the squad.

- Herald on Sunday

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