Rugby World Cup
All Blacks captain daring to dream
Canon Rugby in Focus: All Blacks captain Kieran Read tells Jim Kayes he has been dreaming of a third successive World Cup triumph.
Kieran Read dares to dream.
The All Blacks skipper will play at his third World Cup next month - and happily admits to allowing himself to dream about lifting the Webb Ellis Cup.
“It’s crossed my mind, yeah, 100 percent,” Read said of an act only David Kirk and Richie McCaw have done for the All Blacks before.
“That’s what we dream of man, that’s the ultimate goal. There’s a lot of water to go under the bridge but we’re a capable side.
“That’s why we turn up, it’s the one reason we are going. I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s just as aware that, at five consecutive World Cups, skippers Gary Whetton, Reuben Thorne, Taine Randell and McCaw returned home empty handed.
And, while Read has won the World Cup twice, there are plenty of very good All Blacks who had long careers yet never won the tournament.
Such is the nature of the World Cup and this one, it is universally agreed, will be more competitive than any of the previous eight tournaments.
Wales are No. 1 in the world. England are always a threat. South Africa are on the rise. And Ireland beat the All Blacks in Dublin last year.
Add to that the Wallabies, who thrashed the All Blacks in Perth only to come woefully unstuck at Eden Park a week later, and that’s six teams (including New Zealand) in with a shout.
Then there’s France, who can never be discounted, Scotland and Argentina (who were in the semifinals four years ago) and it’s obvious why this World Cup is so wide open.
The All Blacks head to Japan with some mixed form behind them.
Last November they lost to Ireland and scraped a patchy win against England. This year they were uninspiring in beating the Pumas, drew with South Africa, and had two contrasting games against the Wallabies.
That Bledisloe Cup fortnight showed the importance of getting the preparation right, especially mentally, Read says.
The All Blacks were off, upstairs, in Perth and had that sorted at Eden Park.
“The mentality comes into a lot of this game. Teams are fit and strong, we believe our skill sets are better, but it wasn’t skill set that won and lost those two games.
“It was our mentality and what we brought to the game. If I think back to World Cups that I’ve been involved in, you have to bring that real hunger and intensity.
“When we are slightly off, teams have got a chance, and the teams are good enough. Look around the whole top eight, they are all good enough now.”
Read was told by coach Steve Hansen who was in the World Cup squad a day before it became public. He’s pleased that’s behind the players now and that they can focus on the tournament.
First, though, is a game against Tonga in Hamilton next week. A match in which the All Blacks need to bed down combinations ahead of their tournament opener against South Africa.
Read, who played South Africa in the semifinal in 2015, knows how different it will be playing them in Japan compared to regular Rugby Championship matches.
That match at Twickenham four years ago, that the All Blacks won by just two points, was “massive” and “epic” in terms of the physicality.
“We know we get that most years against them, you put it into a World Cup, first game of the pool for both of us and it’s going to be huge.”
That’s because there is something different about the four-yearly tournament. Everyone lifts, everyone knows it is their chance and that they are only one upset away from history.
“It’s a different beast to your regular test match,” says Read, who will bring up 50 tests as captain in Japan.
“The intensity of it, the scrutiny, the expectations, everything goes up.
“So you have to get your head around that and ensure that you really enjoy it and embrace it, and think of it as an opportunity.
“That’s crucial and probably what we have done well in the past.”
That mindset was born in the ashes of defeat to France in the quarterfinal of the 2007 World Cup - a loss the All Blacks spent about two years blaming on referee Wayne Barnes.
Once they realised it wasn’t his fault, at least not entirely, they began to realise they needed to change.
Analysis of the match officials was ramped up but, more importantly, the All Blacks realised they had to treat the World Cup as something special and to embrace the pressures that come with it.
Hansen touched on that when he named his squad and talked about how the All Blacks are used to pressure and that it will be interesting to see how some of the other top teams cope with it in Japan.
Read echoed those sentiments.
“The pressure is there every test match. But at a World Cup you only get so many opportunities. You have to win your matches and then you get to the finals and it is literally, you lose, you’re out.
“That’s outcome pressure. There’s obviously pressure because the world is watching and everyone wants to have a piece of you at that time.
“That’s the scrutiny part of it, which is great.
"You can’t be hamstrung by that pressure. You have to see it as an awesome opportunity to walk through and get excited by it.”
Read will head to Japan knowing there has been unprecedented public comment on, and criticism of, his own form.
He had significant back surgery last year, and it has taken a while for him to get back to near his best. But his place in the team has never been in doubt.
And he’s confident he is ready to fire in Japan.
“I feel really good. I feel physically great. I feel like I’m having a great impact on the field and, as a leader and a player, I just want to get out there and keep doing it as best I can.”
If he and his teammates all do that, then the All Blacks are in with a decent shout to secure an historic third consecutive title.
“We have to be on our game,” Read warns. “It’s a World Cup. This is our chance and I can’t wait for it.”
The views of the author are not necessarily endorsed by Canon.