By Liam Napier in London
Zinzan Brooke reckons the All Blacks of 1995-96 would trump this year’s version but still believes Ian Foster’s men will rise to the challenge to overcome England at Twickenham this weekend.
Brooke, the silky skilled 57-test No 8, has been a keen observer of the All Blacks through their trials and tribulations of this year’s fluctuating 8-4 test campaign.
He and former All Blacks captain Sean Fitzpatrick caught up with Foster’s squad at their captain’s run in Cardiff two weeks ago, posing for photos with players before being impressed as they blew Wales away at the Principality Stadium.
While that performance, which featured a dominant display from the forward pack, signalled significant improvements, inconsistency has dogged the All Blacks this season to leave Brooke reticent to suggest they have turned a corner despite their six-test winning run.
“On what’s happened you have to reserve judgement,” Brooke told the Herald this week in London, his home for the past 24 years where he and wife Alison have raised their two sons and four daughters. “I’m still confident the All Blacks will get themselves out of a hole of inconsistency they’re producing.
“I’ve always said things will change – and they are changing. It’s evident with Argentina. Once upon a time they were the whipping boys and now they’ve said ‘no more’. They’ve beaten New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and England and that’s good for rugby.
“It’s happening with Italy in the Six Nations. Yes, it’s taken a bit longer but I’d love Italy to blow out some candles on a few of the other Six Nations teams.
“With the world rankings, coming into next year’s World Cup, who would have thought Ireland would be No 1? That’s good for the game. New Zealand were asked the question and they didn’t deliver. They allowed history to be created in New Zealand, not only once but twice with Argentina and Ireland.
“I’m always optimistic with the All Blacks but at the moment I’m sitting on the fence and don’t know which way to fall.”
Brooke chatted to his former All Blacks teammates – Fitzpatrick, Justin Marshall and Andrew Mehrtens - in recent weeks and reached the conclusion that their side, that also harnessed Sir Michael Jones, Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson, Olo Brown, Craig Dowd, Frank Bunce, Ian Jones, would prove too strong for Foster’s men.
The 57-year-old isn’t so confident his era would defeat the Richie McCaw-led 2011-2015 All Blacks, though.
The All Blacks of 95-96 won 28 of their 32 matches, including mid-week tour fixtures, losing three and drawing once.
The ‘96 side achieved history as the first All Blacks side to claim a famous series victory in South Africa, winning three of their four tests in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
“The team we had in ‘94, ‘95, ‘96 and ‘97, it’s very similar to the team McCaw had with the same front row, loose forward, inside back combinations,” Brooke said. “The ammunition they had at their fingertips was phenomenal when they won back-to-back World Cups.
“Right now this All Blacks side is not on that same level. With that ‘95, ‘96, ‘97 team I’d fancy our chances against this current All Blacks side.
“But that team with Richie McCaw, that would be a close battle. It might be 25-all. At the moment the All Blacks need to step up and play a game that’s going to be difficult for France, Ireland and the other teams that are going to be in front of us.”
The All Blacks are expected to confront Ireland or South Africa in their quarter-final at next year’s World Cup in France. Given the option, Brooke has no doubt who he would choose.
“Right at the moment I’d much rather play South Africa. Ireland are going to keep going, but any of these sides could knock each other over on any given day.”
Brooke is reluctant to predict a winner in the first test for three years between England and the All Blacks at Twickenham this weekend but, pushed to make a call, he sides with his heart.
“Against Scotland the first eight minutes were good but from then until 65 minutes it was rather disappointing. Scotland played well but the All Blacks took their foot off the gas. I know the All Blacks are better than that.
“It will be tight but I’ve got to go with the All Blacks by seven points.”
Brooke’s son Lucas could one day don the English red rose having just signed a two-year extension with Premiership side London Irish. In his third game back with the Reading Rams following a shoulder injury last weekend, the promising loose forward impressed his father.
“It was good to see a little bit of Zinzan running around the pitch. He wasn’t doing any drop goals but he was carrying the ball and making some nice passes and tackles. He’s just 20 but he’s doing bloody well.”
* Zinzan Brooke was talking on behalf of FairBettingSites.co.uk