Anton Oliver can reflect on marvellous moments as an All Black.

He was part of some terrific teams from his debut in South Africa in 1996 as a 20-year-old until his 67th and final game, the quarter-final against France at the World Cup four years ago.

And it's that class of 2007 that Oliver is inclined to believe was, in terms of talent, the finest collection of players of his era.

"Right across the board, we had lots of depth in lots of positions. We were really fit, optimistic and confident," he said from London.


Which begs the question: what went wrong at the Cup?

That year's campaign for the World Cup had begun with a conditioning window, which wasn't to everyone's taste. Players were given time out to ensure no burnout by the time the tournament rolled around.

Oliver maintains it was a good idea.

"The first time rotation came in was against Ireland [late in 2005] when [the coaches] completely changed the whole line-up.

"That was a big call, and the boys played really well and justified that decision," Oliver recalled.

The 2007 Cup began with a resounding win over Italy. Oliver contends the All Blacks played "sublime" rugby in the opening period, perhaps their best of the entire tournament.

"It was great, but we needed a few things to go wrong to test ourselves and that didn't really happen, until they really did go wrong," he said.

So on they went, rolling past Portugal, Scotland and Romania. The All Blacks had hoped the Scots, playing in the gloom of Murrayfield, would stretch them. Instead, they lamely opted to field a B side.


"So we hadn't been tested before we played the French," Oliver said. "Clearly that was not a good thing.

"When you get put under pressure and face adversity that's when you find out if things are going to plan or not; you find out the areas that need to be paid closer attention and we never really had that."

Four months before losing to the French in the 1999 semifinal, the All Blacks had walloped them 54-7 in Wellington. So, too, eight years later, when the French were beaten 42-11 and 61-10 on their mid-year visit to New Zealand.

There were survivors from 1999 - Oliver, Reuben Thorne and Byron Kelleher - and they wondered whether to press the emotional button to offer warnings as to the dangers the French posed.

"We were mindful not to live too much in the past but we were aware of their ability through history to play really well, particularly against us for some reason."

By halftime at Cardiff, the All Blacks were 13-3 ahead and all seemed to be sailing pretty well. Oliver remembers a sense of having a good measure of control over proceedings.

Then French captain Thierry Dusautoir scored a try early in the second half.

"I remember going back beneath the posts and quite a few boys were looking around up in the stand and that's not a good sign. You want to just huddle in and stay focused, rally round the skipper or whoever was doing the talking."

Essentially what followed was Yannick Jauzion's match-winning try and a Herculean French defence against waves of All Black pressure.

"That game was to me the perfect storm of all sorts of statistical probabilities aligning themselves and conspiring against us," Oliver said.

"Things within our control, like selection, to things out of our control like injuries to key players in key positions during the game [such as Dan Carter and first five-eighth back-up Nick Evans], forward passes [notably in the lead-up to the Jauzion try], the referee not ruling the offside lines, stuff like that."

Oliver had no particular beef with the missed forward pass. Those things happen, some go your way, others don't.

The hooker, who was replaced 15 minutes into the second half by Andrew Hore, remembers talk of setting up a drop goal opportunity, rather than banging away at a French wall, which, incredibly, didn't concede a penalty in the second half.

"We were all thinking that and the message was going out. It was just a matter of getting into position to do it."

It didn't happen and French joy was unconfined.

So 1999 and 2007. Which stung more for the All Blacks?

That's a personal choice. Oliver reckons "they both pretty much sucked".

"Nineteen ninety-nine was like being mugged for 20 minutes, whereas in Cardiff it was like slow strangulation. Slowly the stitches started coming undone.

"In 2007, we'd played so well leading up for two or three years and we had a wonderful team, a good game plan, so it was quite hard to take that it didn't go well for us.

"We had some of our support staff going to look at possible teams that we could have been playing in the semifinal. Part of me thinks that's probably prudent planning; another part of me thinks 'let's just focus on one game at a time'.

"But it was another really good lesson. When it comes to the World Cup and knockout time, you have to focus on the game at hand. That's all that matters."

The record
Beat Italy 76-14
Beat Portugal 108-13
Beat Scotland 40-0
Beat Romania 85-8
Quarter-final: lost to France 18-20

2007 tournament results
Pool A
September 8, at Stade Felix Bollaert, Lens: England 28 (Jason Robinson, Olly Barkley, Tom Rees tries; Barkley 2 con, 3 pen) United States 10 (Matekitonga Moeakiola try; Mike Hercus con, pen). Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

September 9, at Parc des Princes, Paris: South Africa 59 (Bryan Habana 4, Percy Montgomery 2, Jacque Fourie, J P Pietersen tries; Montgomery 5 con, 3 pen) Samoa 7 (Gavin Williams try, con). Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).

September 12, at Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier: Tonga 25 (Finau Maka, Joseph Vaka 2 tries; Pierre Hola 2 con, 2 pen) United States 15 (Mike MacDonald, Louis Stanfill tries; Hercus con, pen). Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia).

September 14, at Stade de France, Paris: South Africa 36 (Juan Smith, Pietersen 2 tries; Montgomery 3 con, 4 pen; Francois Steyn pen) England 0. Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

September 16, at Stade de la Mosson: Tonga 19 (Epi Taione try; Hola con, 4 pen) Samoa 15 (Williams 5 pen). Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

September 22, at Stade Felix Bollaert: South Africa 30 (Ruan Pienaar 2, Smith, Bobby Skinstad tries; Andre Pretorius con; Montgomery con, pen; Steyn pen) Tonga 25 (Kisi Pulu, Sukanaivalu Hufanga, Viliami Vaki tries; Hola 2 con, 2 pen). Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

September 22, at Stade de la Beaujoire, Nantes: England 44 (Martin Corry 2, Paul Sackey 2 tries; Wilkinson 3 con, 4 pen, 2 drop goals) Samoa 22 (Junior Polu try; Loki Crichton con, 5 pen). Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).

September 26, at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint Etienne: Samoa 25 (Lome Fa'atau, Alesana Tuilagi, Kane Thompson tries; Crichton 2 con, 2 pen) United States 21 (Takudzwa Ngwenya, Stanfill tries; Hercus con, 3 pen). Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

September 28, at Parc de Princes: England 36 (Sackey 2, Mathew Tait, Andy Farrell tries; Wilkinson 2 con, 2 pen, 2 drop goals) Tonga 20 (Hufanga, Hale T Pole tries; Hola 2 con, 2 pen). Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

September 30, at Stade de la Mosson: South Africa 64 (Schalk Burger, Steyn, Habana 2, CJ Van der Linde, Fourie du Preez, Fourie 2, Smith tries; Montgomery 6 con, pen; Butch James 2 con) United States 15 (Ngwenya, Chris Wyles tries; Hercus con, pen). Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England).

Pool B
September 8, at Stade de Gerland, Lyon: Australia 91 (Nathan Sharpe, Rocky Elsom 3, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Chris Latham 2, Berrick Barnes 2, Drew Mitchell 2, George Smith, Adam Freier tries; Stirling Mortlock 7, Matt Giteau 3 con; Mortlock 2 pen) Japan 3 (Kosei Ono pen). Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).

September 9, at Stade de la Beaujoire: Wales 42 (Sonny Parker, Alun Wyn Jones, Shane Williams 2, Colin Charvis tries; Stephen Jones 4 con; James Hook 3 pen) Canada 17 (Jamie Cudmore, Craig Culpan, Morgan Williams tries; James Pritchard con). Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

September 12, at Stadium de Toulouse: Fiji 35 (Akapusi Qera 2, Seru Rabeni, Kele Leawere tries; Nicky Little 3 con, 3 pen) Japan 31 (Luke Thompson 2, Tomokazu Soma tries; Shotaro Onishi 2 con, 4 pen). Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa).

September 15, at Millennium Stadium, Cardiff: Australia 32 (Giteau, Mortlock, Latham 2 tries; Mortlock 2 con, pen; Giteau con; Barnes drop goal) Wales 20 (Jonathan Thomas, Williams tries; Hook 2 con, pen; Stephen Jones pen). Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand).

September 16, at Millennium Stadium: Fiji 29 (Leawere, Kameli Ratuvou 2, Vilimoni Delasau tries; Little 3 con, pen) Canada 16 (Ryan Smith try; Pritchard con, 3 pen). Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England).

September 20, at Millennium Stadium: Wales 72 (Alun Wyn Jones, Hook, T, Rhys Thomas, Kevin Morgan, Mike Phillips, Shane Williams 2, Dafydd James, Gareth Cooper, Martyn Williams 2 tries; Stephen Jones 5 con, pen; Ceri Sweeney 2 con) Japan 18 (Kosuke Endo, Hirotoki Onozawa tries; Bryce Robins con; Onishi 2 pen). Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

September 23, at Stade de la Mosson: Australia 55 (Giteau 2, Mitchell 3, Ashley-Cooper, Stephen Hoiles tries; Giteau 4 con, 3 pen; Barnes drop goal) Fiji 12 (Isoa Neivua, Aca Ratuva tries; Seremaia Bai con). Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

September 25, at Stade Chaban-Delmas, Bordeaux: Canada 12 (Pat Riordan, DTH van der Merwe tries; Pritchard con) Japan 12 (Endo, Koji Taira tries; Onishi con). Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

September 29, at Stade Chaban-Delmas: Australia 37 (Al Baxter, Freier, Smith, Mitchell 2, Latham tries; Cameron Shepherd 2 con; Julian Huxley pen) Canada 6 (Pritchard 2 pen). Referee: Chris White (England).

September 29, at Stade de la Beaujoire: Fiji 38 (Qera, Delasau, Leawere, Graham Dewes tries; Little 3 con, 4 pen) Wales 34 (Alix Popham, Shane Williams, Gareth Thomas, Mark Jones, Martyn Williams tries; Hook con; Stephen Jones 2 con, pen). Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia).

Pool C
September 8, at Stade Velodrome, Marseille: New Zealand 76 (Richie McCaw 2, Doug Howlett 3, Mils Muliaina, Sitiveni Sivivatu 2, Chris Jack, Jerry Collins tries; Dan Carter 7 con, pen; Luke McAlister 2 con) Italy 14 (Marko Stanojevic, Mirco Bergamasco tries; David Bortolussi con; Roland de Marigny con). Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

September 9, at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard: Scotland 56 (Rory Lamont 2, Scott Lawson, Rob Dewey, Dan Parks, Hugo Southwell, Kelly Brown, Ross Ford tries; Parks 5 con; Chris Paterson 3 con) Portugal 10 (Pedro Carvalho try; Duarte Cardoso Pinto con, pen). Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand).

September 12, at Stade Velodrome: Italy 24 (Santiago Dellape, penalty try; Ramiro Pez con, 3 pen; David Bortolussi pen) Romania 18 (Alexandru Manta, Marius Tincu tries; Ionut Dimofte con, 2 pen). Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England).

September 15, at Stade de Gerland, Lyon: New Zealand 108 (Joe Rokocoko 2, Isaia Toeava, Ali Williams, Aaron Mauger 2, Collins, Chris Masoe, Andrew Hore, Brendon Leonard, Nick Evans, Andrew Ellis, Leon MacDonald, Conrad Smith 2, Carl Hayman tries; Evans 14 con) Portugal 13 (Rui Cordeiro try; Pinto con, pen; Goncalo Malheiro drop goal). Referee: Chris White (England).

September 18, at Murrayfield, Edinburgh: Scotland 42 (Paterson, Allister Hogg 3, Lamont 2 tries; Paterson 6 con) Romania 0. Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

September 19, at Parc de Princes: Italy 31 (Andrea Masi 2, Mauro Bergamasco tries; Bortolussi 2 con, 4 pen) Portugal 5 (David Penalva try). Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa).

September 23, at Murrayfield: New Zealand 40 (McCaw, Howlett 2, Byron Kelleher, Williams, Carter tries; Carter 2 con, 2 pen) Scotland 0. Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa).

September 25, at Stadium de Toulouse: Romani 14 (Tincu, Florin Corodeanu tries; Valentin Calafeteanu con; Dan Dumbrava con) Portugal 10 (Joaquim Ferreira try; Pinto con; Malheiro pen). Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).

September 29, at Stadium de Toulouse: New Zealand 85 (Sivivatu 2, Masoe, Rokocoko 3, Evans, Mauger, Toeava 2, Hore, Smith, Howlett tries; McAlister 4 con; Evans 6 con) Tomania 8 (Tincu try; Florin Vlaicu pen). Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

September 29, at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard: Scotland 18 (Paterson 6 pen) Italy 16 (Alessandro Troncon try; Bortolussi con, 3 pen). Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

Pool D
September 7, at Stade de France: Argentina 17 (Ignacio Corleto try; Felipe Contepomi 4 pen) France 12 (David Skrela 4 pen). Referee: Tony Spreadbury (England).

September 9, at Stade Chaban-Delmas: Ireland 32 (Brian O'Driscoll, Andrew Trimble, penalty try, Simon Easterby, Jerry Flannery tries; Ronan O'Gara 2 con, pen) Namibia 17 (Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Piet van Zyl tries; Emile Wessels 2 con, pen). Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

September 11, at Stade de Gerland: Argentina 33 (Lucas Borges 2, Patricio Albacete, Martin Aramburu tries; Contepomi con, 3 pen; Juan Martin Hernandez con) Georgia 3 (Merab Kvirikashvili pen). Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).

September 15, at Stade Chaban-Delmas: Ireland 14 (Rory Best, Girvan Dempsey tries; O'Gara 2 con) Georgia 10 (George Shkinin try; Kvirikashvili con, pen). Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

September 16, at Stade de Toulouse: France 87 (Cedric Heymans, David Marty, Thierry Dusautoir, Lionel Nallet 2, Vincent Clerc 3, Julien Bonnaire, Sebastien Chabal 2, Jean-Baptiste Elissadle, Raphael Ibanez tries; Elissalde 11 con) Namibia 10 (Bratley Langenhoven try; Tertius Losper con; Wessels drop goal). Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

September 21, at Stade de France: France 25 (Clerc 2 tries; Elissalde 5 pen) Ireland 3 (O'Gara drop goal). Referee: Chris White (England).

September 22, at Stade Velodrome: Argentina 63 (Rodrigo Roncero, Juan Manuel Leguizamin 2, Manuek Contepomi, Felipe Contepomi, Gonzalo Tiesi, Corleto, penalty try, Fredrico Todeschini tries; Felipe Contepomi 4 con, 2 pen; Todeschini 2 con) Namibia 3 (Morne Schreuder pen). Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia).

September 26, at Stade Felix Bollaert: Georgia 30 (Akvsenti Giorgadze, Irakli Machkhaneli, David Kacharava tries; Kvirikashvili 3 con, 3 pen) Namibia 0. Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand).

September 20, at Stade Velodrome: France 64 (Clement Poitrenaud, Yannick Nyanga, Lionel Beauxis, Christophe Dominici 2, Sebastien Bruno, Nallet, Remy Martin, Bonnaire tries; Beauxis 5 con, 3 pen) Georgia 7 (Zviad Maisuradze try; Malkhaz Urjukashvili con). Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).

September 30, at Parc des Princes: Argentina 30 (Borges, Horacio Agulla tries; Felipe Contepomi con, 3 pen; Hernandez 3 drop goals) Ireland 15 (O'Driscoll, Geordan Murphy tries; O'Gara con, pen). Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).

October 6, at Stade Velodrome: England 12 (Wilkinson 4 pen) Australia 10 (Tuqiri try; Mortlock con, pen). Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

October 6, at Millennium Stadium: France 20 (Dusautoir, Yannick Jauzion tries; Beauxis con, 2 pen; Elissalde con) New Zealand 18 (McAlister, So'oialo tries; Carter con, 2 pen). Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

October 7, at Stade Velodrome: South Africa 37 (Fourie, Smit, Pietersen, Smith, James tries; Montgomery 3 con, pen; Steyn pen) Fiji 20 (Delasau, Bobo tries; Bai 2 con, 2 pen). Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland).

October 7, at Stade de France: Argentina 19 (Longo Elia try; Felipe Contepomi con, 3 pen; Hernandez drop goal) Scotland 13 (Chris Cusiter try; Paterson con, pen; Parks pen). Referee: Joel Jutge (France).

October 13, at Stade de France: England 14 (Josh Lewsey try; Wilkinson 2 pen, drop goal) France 9 (Beauxis 3 pen). Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa).

October 14, at Stade de France: South Africa 37 (de Preez, Habana 2, Rossouw tries; Montgomery 4 con, 3 pen) Argentina 13 (Manuel Contepomi try; Felipe Contepomi con, 2 pen). Referee: Steve Walsh (NZ).

Bronze final
October 19, at Parc de Princes: Argentina 34 (Felipe Contepomi 2, Omar Hasan Jalil, Martin Aramburu, Corleto tries; Contepomi 3 con, pen) France 10 (Poitrenaud try; Beauxis con, Elissalde pen). Referee: Paul Honiss (New Zealand).

October 20, at Stade de France: South Africa 15 (Montgomery 4 pen; Steyn pen) England 6 (Wilkinson 2 pen). Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland).

Video: Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: England - A bloody-minded band of brothers

Setting the scene: Mitchell at the helm as England rises

Tournament action: Four more years - the tournament goes on

Tournament star: Martin Johnson - Hard leader of the pack

ABs memories: 'Danger of World Cups is they mean so much'
Video:Great World Cup moments - 2003

How we won it: South Africa - Python applies squeeze

Setting the scene: Henry gets his (first) go at the title
Ref's contentious calls leave nation seething

Tournament action: Boks hold nerve in a Cup of big upsets

Tournament star: Agustin Pichot - Skipper who shamed IRB

ABs memories: 'It was like slow strangulation'
Looking ahead:High stakes in road to redemption
Hold heads high whatever the result
World Cup highlights
The greatest upsets
The greatest RWC tries