New Zealand rugby great and the country's first World Cup-winning captain David Kirk has delivered a stinging verdict of the All Blacks' efforts at last year's tournament in Japan - saying the players "weren't mentally tough enough" and suggesting they couldn't be considered as one of the great All Black teams.

In an interview with The Spinoff, Kirk - who lifted the Webb Ellis trophy at the inaugural World Cup in 1987 - said Steve Hansen's team never had a realistic chance of claiming an historic three-peat, despite being considered pre-tournament favourites.

Th All Blacks were stunned 19-7 by a rampant England in the semifinal before winning the bronze medal match against Wales, 40-17.

England were comprehensively beaten by South Africa in the final in Yokohama City.

Advertisement

The defeat to Eddie Jones' English, arguably the All Blacks' worst World Cup performance ever, didn't come as a surprise, Kirk said.

The All Blacks made some questionable positional changes, most notably moving Beauden Barrett to fullback to accommodate Richie Mo'unga at first-five, and earlier defeats to Australia, South Africa, and Ireland, as well as a slew of injuries, were warning signs of what was to come, Kirk told The Spinoff.

"You didn't go into that Cup thinking, 'this is a dominating team that knows how to win tough games under pressure', because we hadn't seen that from them. Somehow they weren't mentally tough enough," Kirk said.

"I like to think other great All Black teams would have been able to respond."

David Kirk lifts the Webb Ellis trophy at the 1987 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport
David Kirk lifts the Webb Ellis trophy at the 1987 Rugby World Cup. Photo / Photosport

Kirk, 59, retired from rugby aged just 26 and left New Zealand to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University. Already a qualified doctor who graduated from Otago University with a medical degree, he studied philosophy, politics and economics but still made time to go to art events.

He has lived in Sydney for nearly 20 years and, for the past four, has chaired the board of directors which oversees the city's annual arts festival.