Profile of defending champions New Zealand ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, hosted by England and Wales.
WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND (AUGUST 30, 2015) (SKY SPORTS NEW ZEALAND AND NEW ZEALAND RUGBY) – Lessons from previous World Cup campaigns have been applied by New Zealand as they head to England as champions, though under less pressure than they were four years ago when they managed to end a 24-year title drought.
Mindful that teams who have won the World Cup have not retained it because the game moved on, coach Steve Hansen took the core of the side that won the 2011 tournament on home soil and reshaped the personnel and their tactics.
He has given 37 players a test debut since he assumed control in 2012, with almost half of those named in his World Cup squad.
That infusion of players such as Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett and Dane Coles has added youth, speed and width to an All Blacks side, who are, in international rugby terms, comparatively old.
The spine of the side, Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu are all over 30, with Kieran Read reaching the mark during the tournament.
With age, however, comes experience. An inherent knowledge of having been there done that, particularly in pressure situations, and knowing what to do to come out the other side.
It is that experience that came to the fore during the All Blacks’ 41-13 victory over Australia at Eden Park in their last match before the World Cup, a week after pundits had suggested the side beaten 27-19 in Sydney were old and lacking vitality.
The old heads ensured that any complacency was gone. Players were reminded of their role, what it meant to be an All Black and the expectations of their rugby-mad nation.
It was something they have demonstrated numerous times during their tenure as World Cup holders, winning games they should have lost as they kept calm, went back to their plan and executed it to ensure victory.
Since the last World Cup they have won 42 of their 47 games, losing three, once each to England, South Africa and Australia, and drawing twice, both against the Wallabies.
On the three occasions they lost they responded with a blistering performance in the next match.
That mental strength will be invaluable at the World Cup, where they know through bitter experience they need to be at their best for three successive games in the knockout phase or they will go home.
Both their World Cup triumphs, in 1987 and 2011, came on home soil and they have suffered some heartbreaking defeats on their previous tournament excursions.
That alone should ensure there is no hint of complacency as they seek an unprecedented third victory.