England great says All Blacks have peaked

DUNCAN JOHNSTONE
Last updated 13:20 15/08/2014
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WINNING RECORD: The last time the All Blacks lost a test was against England in 2012. But despite their recent success, some are tipping New Zealand's demise.

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The All Blacks will get beaten this year - perhaps even tomorrow in Sydney - and the Springboks will win the Rugby Championship.

That is the view of England great Jeremy Guscott.

With the rugby world holding its breath to see if the All Blacks can beat the Wallabies tomorrow night and claim a record 18th consecutive win, there is no shortage of opinion over the prospects for coach Steve Hansen's side for this crucial match and beyond.

Guscott, widely acclaimed as one of the most gifted midfield backs during his time, has not been shy to add his views in a provocative column for The Rugby Paper in Britain.

Guscott believed the Waratahs' recent Super Rugby title win over the Crusaders in Sydney was relevant.

He felt "the Aussies will be more confident than usual", and he has had a crack at All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw.

"There is a body of opinion that if McCaw was left out against the Wallabies it might be an advantage to New Zealand because of the way he was eclipsed by Michael Hooper when the Waratahs claimed their first Super title," Guscott wrote.

"McCaw is getting on. He's been an inspirational leader, but while he was off on sabbatical, Kieran Read pulled on his captain's boots and they fitted pretty comfortably.

"In fact, Read was not only voted IRB Player of the Year, he led New Zealand brilliantly.

"Although McCaw captained New Zealand to a three-nil whitewash of England this summer, it was not as emphatic as it sounds - and every other side will have gained belief that New Zealand are not as far ahead as their unbeaten record last season suggests.

"My prediction is that New Zealand will be beaten this season. It could even happen this weekend because, with the backline talent at their disposal, Australia are capable of beating them.

"This Rugby Championship will be hard-fought, but I sense it is someone else's turn this time.

"The deciding games will be New Zealand in Australia and South Africa in Australia. And my hunch, because of pack power, is that South Africa will win it."

With England hosting the World Cup next year and the All Blacks looking to be the first team to defend the trophy after their win at home in 2011, Guscott offered more forthright views on the New Zealanders.

Despite England using a Dad's Army approach to win the 2003 title, Guscott questioned whether the All Blacks were relying too heavily on their ageing stars for their shot at history.

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He was not sure that New Zealand had the same depth of talent they enjoyed in 2011, "and that they will be as vulnerable in the next 15 months as they have been at any stage in the last decade".

Predictably, Guscott had McCaw's good mate, Dan Carter, in his cross-hairs, but he also singled out Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith for attention.

"There is a sense that changes may have to be made," Guscott wrote.

"In the centres, Conrad Smith and Nonu are veterans at the tipping point, hanging tough to stay the pace until the 2015 World Cup.

"The games will get harder for them now, although Smith is still steady and Nonu recovered after an ordinary first test against England [in June].

"Carter desperately wants to win a World Cup as the starting fly-half, but he, Nonu and Conrad Smith are all at the same crossroads, and it is possible that New Zealand could lose that hugely experienced midfield, or part of it, before the 2015 defence of their world champion title."

Guscott felt that a year out from the tournament, the current campaign presented "a season in which Hansen will have to juggle the age-old question of whether he should concentrate totally on winning the next game or blood new combinations in preparation for the World Cup".

He was also adamant Hansen had it wrong on who should be playing at No 10 in Carter's frequent absences, believing Beauden Barrett was a better option than Aaron Cruden.

"Barrett is the next guy in for Carter. He's incredibly quick in thought as well as pace," he wrote.

"You cannot let this guy run or he will cut you to shreds - where Carter ghosted through gaps, Barrett burns through them.

"While respecting Aaron Cruden's position as the next 10 in line, Barrett is ready.

"Hansen must get Barrett on the pitch more regularly because he gives the New Zealand attack many more options and the opposition many more headaches.

"If someone like that doesn't get the nod, it shows the coaches are running the game far more than international players."

- Stuff

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