COMMENT

It may seem a slightly odd thing to suggest, but the next 10 weeks, without a serious contest being played, will have a massive bearing on the All Blacks' World Cup campaign.

It's possibly not even ridiculous to say that it is in the next 10 weeks that the tournament will be won or lost.

The key to the All Blacks fulfilling their potential in September and October next year is ensuring that their players rest and condition appropriately and effectively in these coming summer months.

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This has always been the case and the reason why in November 2002, All Blacks coach John Mitchell left most of his best players at home in New Zealand rather than take them to Europe for a three-test programme against England, Wales and France.

He wanted to stretch the off-season for the bulk of the players he was certain he would be taking to Australia 11 months later.

It's the same reason why Graham Henry was granted permission to keep 22 All Blacks out of the first seven rounds of the 2007 Super Rugby competition.

He felt an extra month of conditioning would ensure the likes of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw would arrive in France in September 2007 in peak physical condition.

The argument about players needing more time off has always been sound – although it tends to be easy to shoot down as the execution of the so-called reconditioning programme in 2007 was disastrous and the All Blacks crashed out in the quarter-final to blow up any chance of a similar idea ever being signed off again.

But the importance of getting this part of the last year of a World Cup cycle right hasn't changed. And for this particular All Blacks side, there are a significant number of players whose form and fate will be largely be determined by how astutely they prepare themselves in the next two months.

Top of that list is Sonny Bill Williams. He had a horrible 2018 where his body just wouldn't hold up at all.

His critics say his frailty was a result of his age, but it was more likely simply bad luck.

Whatever, he's got an extended period of time now to fix all his various ailments and strengthen all the areas of his body that broke down this year.

If he gets it right and puts himself in a positive state of mind by mid-February, he should have a chance to string together a run of games in Super Rugby and build his form and confidence.

If he is to prove he is still the player the All Blacks want him to be, it will all hinge on getting the next 10 weeks just right.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read is one of the players with a point to prove ahead of the World Cup. Photo / Getty
All Blacks captain Kieran Read is one of the players with a point to prove ahead of the World Cup. Photo / Getty

Kieran Read is another hoping the next 10 weeks will enable him to eke out the last part of his physical recovery from major back surgery 12 months ago.

The skipper hasn't recovered 100 per cent yet, but again, an extended period of conditioning without playing, should provide him with the chance to find the missing five per cent.

It's critical he gets there so his attack game can be restored to the point where he is able to use his stunning off-loading game to create opportunities that no other No 8 in world rugby is currently able to.

Liam Squire is another who needs to reboot his system over the summer.

The bruising blindside lost his way in the back half of this year. He couldn't string a run of games together without injury and his form dipped to the point where he ended the season in a genuine battle for the No 6 jersey having started it as the clear first choice.

Sam Whitelock is expected to miss the start of next year's Super Rugby competition. Photo / Photosport
Sam Whitelock is expected to miss the start of next year's Super Rugby competition. Photo / Photosport

And finally, there is Sam Whitelock, who is going to have 17 weeks off before he plays again.

The big lock was troubled by a groin injury for most of the year that made it hard for him to run at full speed.

He was also dented by the volume of rugby he played and while he ground through the last few tests, he wasn't at his imperious best.

Time off should enable him to not only fix his muscle strain but rediscover the dynamic edge that was such a feature of his game in 2017 and saw him earn the accolade of New Zealand player of the year.

It is a hard one to get the head around, with the sun beating down and the sound of willow cracking into leather reverberating in parks across the country, but the World Cup is very much on the line right now.