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Achievements of rugby-mad New Zealand are extraordinary

By Niall Crozier

Phil Kearns, the former Australia hooker, probably best summed up the sporting phenomenon which is New Zealand rugby when he said: "You can go to the end of time, the last World Cup in the history of mankind, and the All Blacks will be favourites for it."

Coming from a proud Wallaby, that accolade was also a begrudged admission to the status of his country's greatest rivals. That a country with a population of just 4,484,703 has been able to dominate world rugby, and continues to do so, is remarkable.

France's population is 65,744,000. That of South Africa is 52,981,991. England boasts 56,100,000. Yet mention rugby to most people and the first name that comes to mind is that of the All Blacks.

On Saturday at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata they beat Argentina 33-15, outscoring the hosting Pumas by four tries to nil, thereby regaining pole position in the Four Nations Championship.

With over 800 Test caps worth of experience, the All Blacks were able to cope without the services of their remarkable captain, Richie McCaw, whom they hope to have available for the final match of the tournament, a showdown against South Africa on Saturday.

And just look at the champions' form going into this showdown. Prior to that win over Argentina, results in their previous five matches were New Zealand 29 South Africa 15, New Zealand 28 Argentina 13, New Zealand 27 Australia 16, Australia 29 New Zealand 47, New Zealand 29 France 9.

Now bear in mind the fact that South Africa are second, Australia fourth, France fifth and Argentina tenth in the world rankings.

With the All Blacks having 23 points after five of the six rounds of the championship and the Springboks five behind on 18, a New Zealand win by any margin, or a bonus point for losing but scoring four tries, would see them retain the Four Nations title.

To upstage them, the Springboks require improbable events – a bonus point victory by a margin of eight or more points in tandem with stopping the All Blacks earning a bonus for scoring four tries.

In the unlikely eventuality of each of those pieces falling into place, only then would South Africa claim their first Four Nations Championship crown.

But even if the Boks were to record a bonus point win, in and off itself that would be insufficient if the victory margin was one of seven points or less. If that happened, New Zealand would still retain their title.

The Kiwis' influence on rugby extends far beyond the shores of their own islands. Ireland's coach is Joe Schmidt. And three of the four provinces' head coaches are New Zealanders – Ulster's Mark Anscombe, Munster's Rob Penney and Connacht's Pat Lam.

As well as that, Ulster back row , Nick Williams – another Kiwi – chalked up a remarkable double in 2012-13 by winning the PRO12 Player of the Year and the Irish Rugby Union Players Association's Player of the Year awards.

Punching above their weight? No, just delivering in a manner in keeping with the most rugby-crazy country on earth.

Belfast Telegraph


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