COMMENT

The World Cup is what everyone is really fretting about in the wake of the All Blacks' loss to Ireland.

That loss and the one to South Africa, as well as the tight victories in Pretoria and London, have left a few wondering just how well the All Blacks are going to do next year in Japan.

But if there is one lesson the All Blacks have learned the hard way, it is that form one year out - even six months out - from a World Cup is almost irrelevant.

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The All Blacks looked untouchable in 2006, winning 12 of their 13 tests that year, including big wins against England and South Africa, but it was those two teams that made the final of the 2007 World Cup.

Likewise, the All Blacks won only two of their six tests in 1994 and yet stormed into the 1995 final.

The point is, what's happening now doesn't provide compelling evidence of what will happen at the World Cup.

The All Blacks have been raging favourites a year out and blown up badly many times. They have also been a bag of spanners a year out and just about won, so there really isn't any need for anyone to be angst-ridden.

There's a burning need to state the obvious in this regard because it does tend to get missed that the All Blacks have been trying to evolve their game since June, not with a view to having perfected it by the end of 2018, but by the time the World Cup kicks off.

It's possibly not the best comparison, but no one seemed to think a disaster was pending when Usain Bolt was well behind at the halfway mark in most 100m races, as tended to be the case.

The All Blacks would unquestionably like to have progressed further than they have, but in the bigger scheme of things, a couple of losses in 2018 are a reasonable price to pay for having a less predictable, more dynamic game plan by September 2019.

Of course, there is no guarantee the All Blacks will reach the World Cup with the fluency and cohesion they need to be successful.

But there are a few factors that will kick in to help transform them possibly more dramatically than many realise.

There's the simple, inescapable truth that the All Blacks were collectively shattered in those last few tests of the year.

They didn't broadcast that fact or publicly agree with Joe Schmidt when the Ireland coach said as much after his side's 16-9 victory in Dublin.

Ireland players embrace after the rugby union international between Ireland and the All Blacks. Ireland won the match 16-9. Photo / AP
Ireland players embrace after the rugby union international between Ireland and the All Blacks. Ireland won the match 16-9. Photo / AP

But just because they weren't willing to proffer fatigue as an excuse, doesn't mean it wasn't a genuine mitigating factor in their late-season performances.

Look back across the last few years and it's undeniable that the All Blacks have played their best rugby in August and September and then tapered off in the last month after they have been around the world twice.

Come the World Cup, fatigue won't be a factor: the All Blacks are confident they will have, through careful management throughout Super Rugby, a squad that arrives in Japan with a full tank.

And an All Blacks team with a refreshed and full noise Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick becomes a different proposition.

They will also benefit from a seasoned Dane Coles and most likely from Kieran Read finishing the last part of his physical recovery from major back surgery.

That's the beauty of a World Cup - it doesn't lend one hemisphere an advantage over the other in the way the June and November tests do.

Then there is the whole business of pressure and the ability to handle it. The penny dropped for the All Blacks last time around that a World Cup was no different to them in that they live under permanent expectation as it is.

The World Cup doesn't add to their burden, but it does create a new environment for teams such as Ireland, England and South Africa, who are maybe not under the same constant scrutiny.

Look at how England imploded at the last tournament under the pressure of being hosts, South Africa fell to Japan and Ireland were dumped out in the quarter-finals by Argentina to preserve what is a fairly miserable record at World Cups.

It's one thing to be the underdogs at home to the All Blacks, but how will Ireland fare at a neutral venue in Japan with their support expecting a win?

World Cups are an entirely different beast.

They come with different circumstances and demands, and they have thrown up incredible stories over the years.

France lost to the All Blacks and Tonga in pool play in 2011 and were at war with their coach and yet they were within a point of being crowned champions.

England were smashed by South Africa early in the 2007 tournament but found a way to the final to meet the Boks again and almost beat them, and then there was France in 1999 - a train wreck of a campaign that saw them pull off the greatest shock in history with a semifinal win against the All Blacks.

The All Blacks lost to Ireland in November 2018 - which tells us nothing about what we can expect in September and October 2019.