Planet Rugby

State of the Nation: New Zealand

05th December 2013 09:16

Share:

Kieran Read NZ Steinlager awards 2013

Simply the best: Kieran Read

As we do at the end of every year, we look at the state of affairs in each of the world's leading nations. Next up, New Zealand!

The All Blacks of 2013 can rightly be hailed as the greatest team of the professional era and arguably the greatest team ever.

Their feats over the past 12 months have been well documented and the achievement of going unbeaten in 14 matches in a single calendar year will be difficult to repeat.

Their next objective will surely be to extend their winning run to 18 consecutive matches which will be a new record for Tier One nations.

New Zealand rugby has seldom been in a better position, and that says a lot about this current crop of players, as the All Blacks have been been dominant for large periods since the game turned professional in 1996.

A big part of the All Blacks' success - and where they have a huge advantage over their closest rivals, the Springboks - is their central contracting system, where all players answer to the New Zealand Rugby Union. That system directs the careful management of the country's leading 150 players and gives All Blacks coach Steve Hansen control over their usage and retention.

The All Blacks' gameplan and style of play has been good on the eye for many seasons but that alone was not the reason for their brilliance in 2013. On several occasions - notably against the Springboks in Johannesburg, England at Twickenham, France in Paris and Ireland in Dublin - their cool heads and winning instinct during the latter stages of matches carried them over the finish line in close matches.

A few years ago there were concerns about how New Zealand would replace the seemingly irreplaceable duo of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

But McCaw and Carter, along with veteran outside centre Conrad Smith, went on sabbaticals at various stages this year and their absence wasn't as keenly felt as many expected.

Also, injuries to stalwarts like Carter, McCaw, Cory Jane and Tony Woodcock, as well as the decline of aging hooker Andrew Hore - who is now retired - were not major setbacks and their replacements have proven that there is plenty of depth in the land of the Long White Cloud.

New players have emerged and hit the ground running when the team's elder statesmen were not around. Amongst them Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Charles Piutau, Steven Luatua, Dane Coles and Charlie Faumuina, who all served their country with distinction when called upon.

Ben Smith and Piutau, in particular - during the Rugby Championship and November Tests respectively - made full use of the opportunities presented to them.

McCaw's captaincy has also been superb but with Kieran Read ready to take over the reins the man regarded by many enthusiasts as the game's best ever flanker knows the team's leadership will be in safe hands when he is not playing.

Read was New Zealand's best player and his influence on the team grew as the year progressed. Winning the IRB's Player of the Year award was a fitting reward for his fine form throughout 2013.

However, as good as this current New Zealand side is, don't forget that since the game has turned professional, apart from their 2011 World Cup triumph on home soil they have always peaked in between World Cups only to falter during the tournament. And with the 2015 version of the global showpiece less than two years away they will be determined set that record straight.

Before then, however, they will look to build on their successes of 2013 and their biggest challenge in 2014 will be to find new ways of motivating themselves to match this year's great achievement.

By David Skippers
@David_Skipster

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , April 19
Exeter vs SaleExeter vs Sale Preview
Bath vs WorcesterBath vs Worcester Preview
Wasps vs GloucesterWasps vs Gloucester Preview
Sunday , April 20
Northampton vs London IrishNorthampton vs London Irish Preview
Newcastle vs SaracensNewcastle vs Saracens Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
RaboDirect PRO12
Saturday , April 19
Zebre vs EdinburghZebre vs Edinburgh Preview
Connacht vs MunsterConnacht vs Munster Preview
Sunday , April 20
Cardiff Blues vs ScarletsCardiff Blues vs Scarlets Preview
Newport Gwent D'gons vs OspreysNewport Gwent D
More RaboDirect PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , April 18
Castres vs MontpellierCastres vs Montpellier Preview
Saturday , April 19
Oyonnax vs Toulouse14:55
Perpignan vs Toulon17:00
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Racing Metro Paris vs Clermont AuvergneRacing Metro Paris vs Clermont Auvergne Preview
Biarritz vs Brive18:30
Stade Francais vs Bordeaux-Begles20:35
More Top 14 fixtures
Super Rugby
Saturday , April 19
Chiefs vs CrusadersChiefs vs Crusaders Preview
Waratahs vs BullsWaratahs vs Bulls Preview
Sharks vs CheetahsSharks vs Cheetahs Preview
Stormers vs LionsStormers vs Lions Preview
More Super Rugby fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , April 18
Harlequins 24 - 20 LeicesterHarlequins vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Leinster 62 - 7 Benetton TrevisoLeinster vs Benetton Treviso Report
Glasgow 27 - 9 UlsterGlasgow vs Ulster Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Super Rugby
Hurricanes 39 - 20 BluesHurricanes vs Blues Report
Melbourne Rebels 22 - 16 Western Force
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , April 13
Saracens 28 - 24 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Irish 40 - 12 NewcastleLondon Irish vs Newcastle Report
Saturday , April 12
Worcester 33 - 38 ExeterWorcester vs Exeter Report
Leicester 27 - 15 WaspsLeicester vs Wasps Report
Gloucester 17 - 18 BathGloucester vs Bath Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Benetton Treviso 45 - 27 Newport Gwent D'gonsBenetton Treviso vs Newport Gwent D
Scarlets 27 - 20 ZebreScarlets vs Zebre Report
Munster 5 - 22 GlasgowMunster vs Glasgow Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 20 - 22 ToulonBordeaux-Begles vs Toulon Report
Toulouse 16 - 9 BriveToulouse vs Brive Report
Grenoble 30 - 36 Montpellier
Perpignan 22 - 12 Oyonnax
Racing Metro Paris 37 - 7 Biarritz
Bayonne 24 - 19 Stade Francais
More Top 14 results
Super Rugby
Chiefs 22 - 16 Melbourne RebelsChiefs vs Melbourne Rebels Report
Lions 12 - 25 SharksLions vs Sharks Report
Cheetahs 31 - 52 CrusadersCheetahs vs Crusaders Report
Western Force 28 - 16 WaratahsWestern Force vs Waratahs Report
More Super Rugby results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , April 11
Sale Sharks 12 - 27 HarlequinsSale Sharks vs Harlequins Report
More Aviva Premiership results
RaboDirect PRO12
Ulster 58 - 12 ConnachtUlster vs Connacht Report
More RaboDirect PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens1976
2Northampton1966
3Leicester Tigers2064
4Bath1959
5Harlequins2058