The World Cup kicks off a year tomorrow and with that comes the inevitable question of how the All Blacks are tracking in their quest to win a third straight tournament.

There's always this desire to contrast and compare to previous cycles to see how the All Blacks were operating at the corresponding stage.

But it's a little pointless in some respects as there is no perfect plan to follow – no definitive blueprint for success.

There are, however, some common themes that link the 2011 and 2015 winning All Blacks teams and a year out from the 2019 World Cup, the question to ask is how many of those traits can be seen in the current team?


The most important links between the 2011 and 2015 teams include:

1. An experienced and capable captain.

2. A world class first-five and in the case of 2015, a high quality, experienced back-up.

3. An established and identified first choice starting XV with embedded combinations in most or all of the key areas.

4. Genuine depth to not only handle inevitable injuries, but to ensure there is strong internal competition for places.

5. Collective experience that is at or close to all-time historic records.

6. Significant X-Factor or ability for some individuals to change the dynamic of any game with high impact skillset.

7. A coaching and playing group that have experienced adversity and learned through their mistakes how to win high pressure games.

8. A versatile gameplan that gives the All Blacks options to pass, run or kick.

9. Confidence from winning regularly yet without an attached sense of complacency.

So, how are the All Blacks tracking?

1: The first box is ticked. Kieran Read has played 112 tests and captained the All Blacks in 38.

By the time the World Cup kicks off, he'll be close to Sean Fitzpatrick's 51 tests in charge and therefore close to being New Zealand's second most experienced captain in history.

So experienced yes. Capable..? Mostly. Read is usually tactically astute and often bold and decisive in working out when opponents are weakening and vulnerable.

But there have been times – the second test against the Lions last year when the All Blacks were reduced to 14 men – and last weekend's test against the Boks when it has felt he hasn't quite imposed himself hard enough.

Against the Lions the All Blacks became overly conservative tactically and against the Boks, perhaps Read needed to demand a drop goal in the last two minutes.

2: In Beauden Barrett the All Blacks have a world class first-five with 70-plus tests of experience.

He's the best No 10 in the world and there is trusted back-up in Damian McKenzie and Richie Mo'unga, although the latter needs more experience to be confident at a World Cup.

The only niggle is that goal kicking becomes a bigger feature at World Cups and this is Barrett's Achilles Heel.

Goal kicking is Beauden Barrett's only potential flaw. Photo / Getty
Goal kicking is Beauden Barrett's only potential flaw. Photo / Getty

His overall statistics are good, but as everyone knows, he has the odd horrible game as a kicker and in knockout football that could be disastrous.

The All Blacks need a strategy about what they will do if they sense Barrett's radar is broken during a game.

3: The All Blacks, with one or two debatable positions, have an obvious strongest team with a host of established combinations and that team is unlikely to change in the next 12 months.

If everyone is fit, Joe Moody, Dane Coles and Owen Franks will be in the front row; Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock at lock; Liam Squire, Sam Cane and Kieran Read in the loose trio; Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett are at halfback and first-five and the back three will depend on the opposition but could be Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo on the wings with Ben Smith at fullback, or Ioane and Smith on the wings with Jordie Barrett at fullback.

A question mark hangs over the midfield where there remains some fluidity about combinations.

Sonny Bill Williams and Ryan Crotty have been viewed as the preferred pairing, but the arrival of Jack Goodhue, who has been quite sensational at centre this year, creates the prospect of the pecking order changing.

4: The only positions of concern in regard to depth are blindside and No 8. Shannon Frizell has shown ample promise at blindside in his two tests and will presumably get a couple more in the injury-enforced absence of Squire.

There's also Vaea Fifita to consider and Jackson Hemopo waiting to show that he can play at the side of the scrum, but one of those three is going to need to unequivocally prove before the World Cup they can consistently deliver at this level.

There needs to be a conversion from promising to proven.

Luke Whitelock is the next in line at No 8 and while he's solid defensively and strong in the air, he's a little limited in attack and lacks the ball-carrying impact and ball skills of Read.

5: The collective experience of the likely starting team is impressively high and is comparable already with the 2015 team.

There will be three centurions – there were five in the 2015 squad although only three in the team that started in the knock-out rounds.

There will also be a host of players – Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett and Ben Smith - sitting on about 80 caps and collectively, the starting team will most likely, final selections depending, have in excess of 1000 caps.

6: There is X-factor across the team. Ioane is capable of doing something to change the game.

Rieko Ioane has the X-Factor. Photo / Getty
Rieko Ioane has the X-Factor. Photo / Getty

Naholo if he's playing is another who has the ability to score out of nothing. Barrett of course is the master of the impossible and of course not to be discounted is Williams whose offloading was such a major feature of the 2015 World Cup.

Coles can surprise with his ability to beat defenders and Read is a genuine wild card with his passing out of contact.

7: Since winning the last World Cup, the All Blacks haven't been put under as much pressure as they would have liked.

There have been too many one-sided games in the cycle, but that's not to say they haven't been exposed to adversity.

They would have learned significant lessons in 2016 when they lost to Ireland in Chicago and then had to bounce back to play and beat them two weeks later in Dunedin.

The All Blacks had to battle through most of 2017 with an extended injury toll and victories in Dunedin, Edinburgh and Cape Town all had to be dug out.

The loss and draw against the Lions would also have been significant moments - all of which has given the core group exposure to difficult situations with plenty more pressure to come this year.

8: The All Blacks have a triple threat game to bring to the 2019 tournament.

They haven't kicked much this year or last, but that may be deliberate as they try to keep that side of their plan under wraps.

But they have the personnel to kick well – Barrett and Aaron Smith – and in Ben Smith, one of the best retrievers of contestable kicks.

9: Winning remains a good All Blacks habit. Since they won the last World Cup they have lost four tests and drawn one.

They are confident, but not overly so as they have been given enough reminders that they are not infallible.

This team understands that each victory has to be earned.