Oval Talk

Impressive All Blacks on cruel cycle

Oval Talk

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Oval Talk wasn't the least bit surprised by the All Blacks' dismantling of South Africa in their Tri-Nations opener - we are, after all, a little over one year out from the World Cup.

Actually, that's no quite true; out-scoring the world and Tri-Nations champions by four tries to nil never looked on the cards, but the fact New Zealand appear to be 'peaking' 12 months ahead of the World Cup continues a trend we have become all-too familiar with.

Next week's clash in Wellington could go a long way towards confirming our suspicions that the All Blacks have again discovered their best form too early in the four-yearly cycle.

OT appreciates how that might be a tad unfair on New Zealand; after all, what are they supposed to do, play below the extremely exacting standards expected of their rugby-mad public in order to dismiss such a theory?

The next two months will obviously tell us more, but Graham Henry's side have looked in ominous form this season, playing a brand of rugby no other nation is able to match - as evidenced by their thumping of the Springboks.

But with success comes expectation, and if they continue to impress and cement their spot at the top of the world standings by wresting the Tri-Nations trophy off South Africa, then the pressure on them next year will be at an all-time high - unbearable even.

Consider the fact they are hosting the World Cup next year, and consider the fact they have worn the chokers tag for more than 20 years, having failed to lift the Webb Ellis trophy since their triumph in the inaugural tournament back in 1987.

New Zealand weren't the best team at the World Cup in 2003, but they were in 1987, 1995 and 1999, and quite possibly possibly in 1991 and 2007 as well.

History and, if rumours are to be believed, a 'mystery' bug was against them in 1995, and they were unlucky to meet France sides inspired in a way only the Les Bleus can be when they lost to them in 1999 and 2007.

In many respects, the 'chokers' moniker is a compliment to New Zealand because rarely do we expect them not to win.

But if they produce a similar performance next week and set themselves on the path to Tri Nations glory, then those same whispers about 'peaking too early' will start to steadily gain momentum.

And with it the pressure of expectation - it's a cruel cycle.

Farewell of the week: Harry Ellis. The former England and Leicester scrum-half played rugby the way we most admire: hard, fair and totally committed. Ellis was Lewis Moody-esque in his approach, had an excellent service and defence, and his speed off the mark made him a constant threat.

Had injury not intervened Ellis would surely have enjoyed a long international career and won even more honours with Leicester. The only consolation for England and Tigers fans is that young Ben Youngs is emerging in much the same mould.

Villain of the week: Bakkies Botha. It's no use the Springboks lock saying sorry after a butt on Jimmy Cowan that had the Eden Park crowd releasing a unified oooh on seeing the replay. Botha's apology is fooling no-one - he's merely paying lip service to the sport's authorities.

Cowan was prone on the ground and Botha took revenge for the scrum-half having earlier held him back. It's what Botha does; he's South Africa's fixer. OT is by no means condoning Botha's actions, but nor is he even a little bit surprised. Watch the video below and make your own minds up.


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