South Arica were momentarily successful. So too John Eales' Wallaby teams of the early-2000s. But nothing has been quite as successful at stopping All Black dominance as the advent of the Rugby World Cup.

Or has it?

Popular opinion would have it that the All Blacks only need to be in the general area of a World Cup knockout match and their collective trachea begins to restrict and that lack of oxygen to the brain sees them divert from game plans, subside into blind panic and, next minute, they're running over the bonnets of expensive cars outside Heathrow Departures.

The All Blacks are the ultimate World Cup chokers, their critics and even a few of their fans would have you believe. Trying to define choking is a little bit harder. If it's under-performance when faced with pressure, then there're probably 100 examples of choking in any single game. Is it simply falling short of the favourites' tag? This definition raises more questions than answers as "favouritism" in itself is a fairly arbitrary concept.


Were the All Blacks really favourites in 1999, for example, given they were one year removed from the five test losses in a row? Likewise, in 2003 an England side that was at one stage reduced to 13-men beat the All Blacks in Wellington, a sure sign that version of the All Blacks wasn't built for a World Cup win.

Forget the hype for a minute, and look at pure results.

On its own, that statistic doesn't tell you a heck of a lot because you'd expect the numbers to be high. The involvement of minnows during pool play gives you plenty of ticks in the win column and, once you get to the knockout phases, you can only lose a maximum of two games (the third v fourth playoff being the second).

More accurate would be to measure the All Blacks win record against the other 'Big Five' teams.

Straight away you notice New Zealand is no longer Top Dog, with the Springboks just shading them. Theirs is a smaller sample size and it is pointless to speculate on what might have happened at the first two World Cups if Apartheid-era South Africa had been invited. All you can conclude is that South Africa are a strong tournament team.

Perhaps the most instructive feature of this table is that the Southern Hemisphere Giants dwarf their northern counterparts in terms of World Cup pedigree, but neither England nor France get labelled World Cup chokers (in fact, Les Bleus are often seen as World Cup specialists, despite having never won one) and the All Blacks do.

If we are to accept that the choke level dissipates the further you go in the tournament -given the quality and the form of the opposition invariably increases the deeper you go - then how should the All Blacks choke-o-meter read?

Again, arbitrarily, the Choke Scale might read something like this (and this is counting the 1999 quarter-final playoffs as pool play):
Failing to progress from pool play - Def-con choke;
Losing in pool play and progressing - Awkward choke;
Losing in quarter-finals - Major choke;
Losing in semis and 3v4 playoff - Bitter choke;
Losing in semis - Minor choke;
Losing in final - Midget choke;


On this entirely made-up Choke Scale, all the Big Five nations have avoided a Def-con scenario, but only the All Blacks have avoided an Awkward choke.

The All Blacks and France have both endured a Major choke just once. The All Blacks lost to France in the quarters in 2007 and France lost in the quarters to England in 1991. South Africa and Australia has both suffered two Majors (the Boks from only four tournaments), and England three.

Could you then launch an argument to say England and South Africa are the biggest World Cup chokers? Not likely to get much traction outside of New Zealand, again because they never have the same level of expectation around them.

In terms of the Bitter chokes (seriously, nobody wants to play third v fourth playoffs), the list looks like this, in order from 1987-2011: Wales, Scotland, England, New Zealand, France, France, Wales. Of the Big Five, South Africa and Australia have avoided this scenario.

France and New Zealand, with three semifinal losses each in six attempts, are the most prolific Minor chokers. Australia have two from five and England and South Africa one each, from four and three semifinals respectively.

Nobody can match France for a Midget choke either, with a three-from-three finals futility record. England have lost two from three, New Zealand and Australia one from three, while South Africa have won on both occasions they have got there.


Perhaps a 'choke' is better measured by what happens in game. Throwing away a seemingly unassailable lead might be referred to as a choke. In that case, the All Blacks semi- and quarter-final collapses against France in '99 and '07 respectively might be the ultimate chokes, although looking at it through that prism fails to give Les Bleus the credit they deserve in 1999 or, facetiously, Wayne Barnes in 2007.

It has to be said - however staunchly you defend the All Blacks - that these were at best unusual losses, at worst the sort of meltdowns that give rise to the 'ch' word.

What does it all mean? Nobody is immune to choking and there's no way the All Blacks have a mortgage over it.