There is an old Yiddish saying that roughly translates to English as, "Men make plans, and God laughs."
The current All Blacks are as well organised as any in our rugby history. As they did before the 2015 Cup in Britain, the All Blacks had manager Darren Shand scouting all the hotels and training grounds the team is using in Japan. If Steve Hansen asked for a video collection of every time Richie Mo'unga had kicked for touch with his left foot from inside his own 22 on the blindside of a breakdown in Super Rugby, the two analysts with the side would have it to him in minutes.
What's comforting is that for all the planning, the group in charge have enough people in the management group who learned from bitter experience at the 2007 Cup, and again in 2011, that plans can go haywire at the snap of an abductor muscle.
Here are five scenarios that All Black coaches expected to happen that in fact did not become part of New Zealand's World Cup story.
JOCK HOBBS CAPTAINING THE 1987 WORLD CUP WINNING SIDE
When the Cavaliers returned after their rebel tour of South Africa in 1986 coach Brian Lochore soon appointed Cavalier Jock Hobbs to lead the All Blacks, and Hobbs was captain when the All Blacks went to France on their last tour before the 1987 Cup.
But although just 27 at the start of the '87 season Hobbs had to make the heartbreaking decision to retire from rugby. On April 12 in a game for Wellington against Auckland at Athletic Park he took a hit to the head, and was sick for days afterwards. A neurosurgeon had already given him a last warning after a series of concussions. Hobbs knew he had to stop playing. He actually left New Zealand during the last stages of the Cup. "I thought it best to get away" he said, but the Cup seemed to pursue him, and he actually heard the radio commentary of the final in a light plane flying from Rarotonga to an outer island in the Cooks. It was David Kirk who would forever be known as the first World Cup winning captain.
JONAH LOMU NOT EVEN IN THE TEAM IN 1995
Lomu was rushed into the All Blacks as a 19-year-old in 1994, but in two tests against France was made to look, as he then was, an absolute greenhorn in the position, having played all his schoolboy rugby as a forward.
Dropped from the All Blacks, and disillusioned with rugby, he was offered a $300,000 a year deal to play league for the Canterbury Bulldogs in Sydney. Lomu decided to sign with the Bulldogs, and asked Phil Kingsley-Jones, at that stage basically an unofficial advisor, to draw up a formal contract to manage him.
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Kingsley-Jones said he would manage Lomu, but on one crucial condition. When Jonah won back his place in the All Blacks he must give Kingsley-Jones the jersey he wore in the game. The psychology worked. Lomu stayed with rugby, and in '95 became the biggest star the modern game has ever seen.
GRANT FOX TAKING THE KICKS IN 1995
Fox retired at the end of 1993, and All Black coach Laurie Mains experimented with moving Marc Ellis from centre to first-five on the end of the year tour to Scotland and England. The move wasn't hugely successful. Over the next 12 months it was an open secret that there were persistent approaches to Fox from Mains, and his assistant, former first-five, Earle Kirton, wanting Fox to come out of retirement.
It was, Fox would tell me a decade later, a huge relief to him when Andrew Mehrtens, only 21 years old, but in Fox's eyes already a huge talent, played a blinder, and dropped the winning goal, in front of Mains when Canterbury held the Ranfurly Shield in 1994 in the face of a massive challenge from Otago. Mehrtens had locked in his spot at first-five for the cup in South Africa.
JEFF WILSON (OR MAYBE ANTON OLIVER) CAPTAINING THE 1999 ALL BLACKS
After a horror year in 1998 coach John Hart decided he needed a new skipper for the '99 Cup, replacing Taine Randell. At first he decided on Robin Brooke, but then looked to Jeff Wilson and Anton Oliver.
In 2014 Randell told me how the mantle was returned to him. "We had been told that Robin Brooke was going to be captain. This was during the Super Rugby competition. But then things changed. We [the Highlanders] were playing in Wellington. At that stage I'd told John [Hart] I didn't want to be the captain. I wanted to be a player first. At a meeting in Wellington, the group, Goldie [Jeff Wilson], myself, and Anton [Oliver] basically decided that I was going to be captain. Anton had been offered the captaincy, and turned it down. Goldie said he couldn't be the captain on the wing or at fullback. I'm the one left. It was by consensus, and I was basically the last man standing."
Sadly, things wouldn't end happily. As Randell, a likeable, entirely decent man, now openly says, he was too young and inexperienced to take over, as he did, from a hard-nosed veteran in Sean Fitzpatrick, and the All Blacks would finish fourth.
DAN CARTER BEING A HERO OF THE 2011 CAMPAIGN
How highly does coach Graham Henry regard Dan Carter in 2011? So highly that he appoints Carter, who has never captained Canterbury or the Crusaders, to lead the All Blacks in a pool game in Wellington against Canada.
It all turns pear shaped when Carter, right at the end of a very light run before the Canadian test, decides to take just four kicks at goal.
On the last kick he suddenly screams in pain, and drops to the ground. A scan of Carter's groin reveals he's torn the tendon that attaches the adductor longus muscle to the bone.
What follows is, says Steve Hansen, is Graham Henry's finest hour. As Carter is shipped off to hospital Henry gathers the team in the changing shed. They're all shell shocked. Captain Richie McCaw is trying to stay stoic, but inside he's thinking that Carter is the most difficult man in the team to replace.
"We've got to be strong," says Henry. "We've lost Dan and it's a hell of a blow, but we've just got to get on with doing the business. I've got faith in this man [he points to Colin Slade] and I know he'll do the job for us."
Expect the unexpected had been a mantra for the All Blacks since the heartbreak of 2007. Four years later they had to live it. As the '11 Cup ground on, Slade was injured, and then his replacement Aaron Cruden, went down in the final with France. Henry and Co. would never have dreamed Stephen Donald, their fourth choice, would step up and land the penalty that won the final, and the Cup, 8-7.
In 2019 God may be smiling at the plans the All Blacks have. The comforting thought is that they know how nimble they need to be if best laid schemes hit the fan.
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