Duncan Garner: Sweaty palms and nostalgia - it must be the Rugby World Cup

They may be a step or two slower than in 2011 but All Blacks stalwarts such as Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu have crucial ...
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They may be a step or two slower than in 2011 but All Blacks stalwarts such as Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu have crucial experience, writes Duncan Garner.

OPINION: I confess I'm slightly confused and just a little anxious about the All Blacks on the eve of the Rugby World Cup. 

It's a nagging doubt about this current team – and I do hope I'm very wrong. 

Maybe I'm just scarred and over-anxious from the previous heartbreaks. 

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This All Black team is superbly experienced and in the box seat to win the tournament. 

Or, some critics say, it's an ageing squad and Steve Hansen has been too sentimental with some of his selections.

Everyone has a theory. I'm going with the first one. The ABs have an average age of 28.2 – certainly not the oldest team. ntsGat the cup.nte

We are a brilliantly coached side who have learned to win ugly since the last World Cup. The All Blacks have played 47 test matches in the last four years and won 42, that's 89 per cent (with two draws). 

Just three losses: England (2012) , South Africa (2014) and Australia last month. Incidentally, these are the only other teams I think can win the cup – which only makes me more nervous. 

I reckon this All Blacks team is stronger than 2011. They have evolved their game under  Hansen, who has taken this side to a new level. 

They play faster, have much stronger self-belief and have won games they should have lost – that is the mark of true champions. 

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This week I've been watching repeats of the All Blacks' 2011 cup games.  They looked slow in comparison to today. Hansen has genuinely improved excitement, pace and belief. 

Look at Aaron Smith, Brodie Retallick, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo. None of these guys were there in 2011.

Throw in the experience and class of Richie McCaw, Kieran Read, Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Dan Carter, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith and we look like we have the perfect balance (even if these guys have slowed a step or two since 2011.)

The team has high expectations and it has a culture of winning. But history says we've only won the cup at home. 

There was 1991 (ageing, arrogant and past it); 1995 (the best team were beaten by a great team with a better dropkicker); 1999 (went to sleep against the French) and 2003 (weirdo coach and stupid selections),

Then in 2007  we were found out both on and off the field. The All Blacks were cocky and arrogant by their own admissions. 

We're not now: Hansen has introduced a culture where the players are approachable – arrogance and aloofness has been kicked for touch. 

He believes in his players. He is loyal and they believe in him. 

My pre-tournament jitters are also in relation to the draw. If Pool A is the pool of death then we must be in the pool of paper cuts.

First up on Monday we play a disruptive Argentinian side, then pointless games against Namibia, Georgia and Tonga. 

With such lame opposition before the quarterfinals Hansen must play his top team and get them some rugby, balanced against the need to avoid injuries. Also, we are no longer that much better than the rest. As I've written previously, as All Black supporters we don't realise and acknowledge how good the other teams are. 

Australia no longer fear us – don't under-estimate what beating us has done for their confidence. 

The English have a belief issue but know on their day they can take us at home. 

And South Africa are strong. They play well in the northern hemisphere and they have  a backline bristling with talent.

So can we win? Of course. Will we? Please let it be so.  

But World Cups are tight. The deeper you go into a tournament the more boring and slower the rugby becomes. A point here and there can win it. One try does it. 

And all things going well we will meet the French in Cardiff in the quarterfinals.

Deja vu is a French term right? Gulp. My palms are suddenly sweaty again. 

 - Stuff


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