After relinquishing the Rugby Championship title for the first time back in August and flattering to deceive during the World Cup pool stages, there were fears that the All Blacks had gone off the boil.
Obviously, that wasn’t the case.
A record win against France followed by a cagey victory over South Africa in the knock-out stages showed that Steve Hansen’s team truly possessed the complete game for all conditions and situations.
Their 34 points – including three tries – in the final underlined their status as the number one team in the world, not just in terms of winning matches, but also the crowd-pleasing style with which those results were achieved.
The manner in which they out-thought the Springboks tactically and executed their plan clinically to win their semi-final, despite South Africa enjoying the upper hand physically, should be seen as a lesson to every rugby coach out there.
Indeed, this crop of All Blacks has been hailed in many quarters as the greatest rugby team in the history of the game. It’s a statement that’s tough to argue against considering they have been beaten just three times in 54 fixtures over the past four years. The 2015 final saw the All Blacks win their 14th successive RWC match, extending the competition record.
With many players in their World Cup team having set the benchmark of the generation in their respective positions, the challenge now for New Zealand is to maintain the standards set by Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and co.
Continuity has been a key ingredient of their success. Fourteen players from the RWC 2011 win helped the All Blacks retain the Webb Ellis Cup: Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Victor Vito, Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith and Sonny Bill Williams.
The carrot of a British and Irish Lions tour will keep a few that aren’t already off to France or retirement around, but only Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock – who will both be 31 in 2019 – are safe bets to make it to the next World Cup in Japan.
It’s a situation that may seem alarming on the surface, the New Zealand’s conveyor belt of talent shows no signs of stopping its prolific rate of producing world-class players. Just take a moment to consider the players that didn’t make the cut for 2015, like Israel Dagg, Charles Piutau, Jeremy Thrush and Jordan Taufua.
Consider also that Sam Cane, Julian Savea, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Malakai Fekitoa, Beauden Barrett and Brodie Retallick are among those who will still be under 30 in four years time. There is no need to panic here.
More pertinent is perhaps the question of who will be the coach since Hansen has indicated he is unlikely to seek a contract extension beyond the Lions tour in 2017. There too the options are plentiful. The future looks bright.