All Blacks’ Cup Captains – How Do They Measure Up?

World beaters.

New Zealand. The All Blacks. The reigning world champions. In 2015, the most feared team on the planet fulfilled all expectations and swept to victory at the World Cup. Steven Hansen’s men are rightly favourites to defend their country’s crown for the second time.

The All Blacks were deserved winners of the 2015 World Cup.

However, as evidenced by the world champions’ recent performance in the Lions Tour of 2017, there is no room for complacency as the All Blacks stand on the verge of making history. No team is ever likely to emulate the World Cup hat-trick New Zealand could achieve, but a drawn series against the British Lions, 12 years after a thorough whitewash, is an illustration of the All Blacks’ mortality. No side is unbeatable. In the last World Cup, Japan sprung the biggest shock in living memory. As reported by BBC Sport, the hosts of 2019 beat eventual semi-finalists South Africa in the pool stage. 2015 hosts England were also eliminated at the pool stage, after defeat to a determined and un-fancied Wales side all but sealed their fate.

NZ have the need for Read

Although he has a huge responsibility, current New Zealand captain Kieran Read boasts the qualities required to see the All Blacks’ conquest through with little to no scares. New Zealand are 6/5 favourites with Betway to lift the World Cup, and with Read already experiencing such success, he knows exactly what it takes to be a champion. His lack of match fitness in the All Blacks’ recent trilogy against the Lions, due to injury, created a degree of uncertainty amongst a squad hotly tipped to repeat the whitewash of 2005. A drawn series was seen as a setback for the All Blacks, but in true Kiwi fashion, they have roared back in some style. Five straight wins in the recent Rugby World Championship, including a 57-0 rout of South Africa, as reported in the Guardian, has shown in no uncertain terms just how lethal the All Blacks still are.

Kieran Read has a great point scoring rate for club and country, but the 2019 World Cup represents an altogether different type of challenge for the number 8:

Assuming no injuries for Read, there is no reason to believe that the All Blacks cannot maintain such consistency into the 2019 World Cup. Like its predecessors, the projected New Zealand squad for the 2019 World Cup has a few clear danger men. However, one telling difference between that squad, and the successful ones before it, will be the absence of Richie McCaw and the leadership qualities he boasted as captain in the victorious conquests of 2011 and 2015. With Read likely to be New Zealand’s captain at the 2019 World Cup, how does he measure up against his cup-winning counterparts of yesteryear?

Whetton’s determination mirrors Read’s own trajectory

As one of the most revered Locks ever to play for New Zealand, the country’s first cup-winning captain, Gary Whetton, was a natural winner. Although he only scored ever one test try in his entire international career, captain Whetton was the beating heart and relentless engine that drove his country to ultimate success in 1987. It could have been very different for Whetton, who entered the international game aged 21, having been turned around by an Outward Bound course. Quite simply, Whetton was not just a jack of all trades, he was a master of them too. The key to his success on the field was his ability to drift effortlessly from a lock position to a pseudo-loose forward, patching up the gaps whenever play broke down. His ability from the kickoff was also a great asset, and surprised many an unassuming opponent.

McCaw’s success is Read’s pressure

While Whetton’s performances at the 1991 World Cup were hampered by a squad (including himself) mostly past its prime, his performances of 1987 remained the bar for future New Zealand players. That is until the second major All Blacks revival of 2011, when Richie McCaw’s second World Cup captaincy heralded a new golden age for the All Blacks. His country triumphed 8-7 over France, as reported in the Telegraph, and if judged by his World Cup successes and win rate combined, McCaw is (based on the stats available on ESPN) statistically New Zealand’s greatest ever captain.

No doubt driven and angered by Australia’s Oceanic dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, the fruits of McCaw’s efforts finally manifested in his home World Cup. After beginning his career as a pacy flanker, McCaw evolved into a player that focuses on retention, rather than one that specialises in capitalising on an opposition breakdown – although even in 2015 he showed flashes of such a trait. With two World Cup wins as captain, McCaw will take some beating in the All Black ‘legend’ stakes for generations to come.

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