Why the All Blacks won't do a Germany

Opinion 01/07/2018
Photo credit: Photosport/Reuters.

OPINION: Schadenfreude levels peaked at an all-time high earlier this week as Germany were bundled out of the FIFA World Cup in the most embarrassing manner imaginable.

The entire world it seemed laughed as the champions curse continued: Germany becoming the third defending champion in a row to be knocked out in the group stage of the World Cup.

While history told us not to be surprised, it was a complete shock to witness the downfall of this mighty footballing nation which prides itself on immaculate preparation, superior skill and machine-like ruthlessness to win World Cups.

Sounds a bit like the All Blacks, doesn't it?

The rugby world would take equal pleasure in watching New Zealand capitulate similarly next year, but it really would be a stretch to imagine the All Blacks 'doing a Germany' when they look to defend the World Cup in Japan.

If there's a theme that runs through the three cursed FIFA World Cup champions of 2010 (Italy), 2014 (Spain) and 2018 (Germany), it's that the same coach relied largely on the same group of players to go out and get the same result four years later. That certainly won't be an option for Steve Hansen next year.

The retirements of several key All Blacks after the 2015 World Cup final - including Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock - forced Steve Hansen and the All Blacks selectors into a fast transition, and refresh his squad. In fact, German coach Joachim Low might now wish some of the stars of that 2014 campaign in Brazil had chosen to end their international careers then and there. Instead, he's now forced to reflect on whether it was the right call to place trust in old, experienced heads whose bodies were no longer at the level required to win a World Cup.

Their heads weren't in it either. Those experienced players developed a complacency and an arrogance that would cost them. There are strong suggestions that one of Germany's key players, midfielder Toni Kroos, avoided passing to one of his inexperienced teammates playing in his first World Cup because he simply didn't trust him. That's a situation that only arises through a lack of time on the pitch with different members of the squad, which is like money in the bank at a major tournament. Again, Hansen and co have prepared for this. With 54 players used last year, they've developed depth and built trust between a squad that knows each other inside out thanks to regular contact at Super Rugby level, and international level as well.

Germany had a menacing squad on paper as well, but as a coach, you still have to know what to do with it. This is where Joachim Low got it horribly wrong when it mattered most. After his team's opening loss to Mexico, he panicked. The reaction was to drop the spine of the team: Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Mats Hummels were dropped. That would be like Hansen making a statement by dropping Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock and Ben Smith. It just wouldn't happen.

Perhaps more than any of this though, there was one clear sign that all was not well with Germany heading into their title defence: results. They had only won one of their four matches in 2018 - and that was against Saudi Arabia just 11 days before the start of the tournament. They had drawn with Spain and suffered back-to-back defeats to Brazil and Austria. Two defeats - including one to Austria - proceeded it.

Now the All Blacks were certainly not at their best against France last month, but they were also without their skipper, the world's best hooker and their regular second-five eighth. On top of that, there were injury concerns to the stand-in skipper and his deputy, all of which left the All Blacks far from their best.

Indeed it's the threat of significant injuries rather than issues such as complacency, squad disharmony, lousy coaching, or misguided squad selection that stand in the way of the All Blacks and a third-straight World Cup.

Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sports reporter/presenter and host of RadioLIVE's Sunday Sport.