Fitzpatrick backs All Blacks for World Cup glory
All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick says Steve Hansen's side has the ability to back up the 2011 World Cup victory by winning next year's tournament in England.
Fitzpatrick, the hooker who played 92 tests and captained New Zealand 62 times, said the All Blacks had improved their depth enough to finally secure a World Cup victory overseas.
Fitzpatrick was part of the 1987 team that won the inaugural tournament in New Zealand - a feat that took 24 years to repeat, again at home.
He is on the Laureus World Sport Academy that will decide whether the All Blacks are the team of the year from 2013, when they won all 13 tests, the first side in the professional era to achieve that.
In an interview in the lead-up to the awards in Malaysia on March 26, Fitzpatrick was asked whether the All Blacks have what it takes to finally win a World Cup away from home.
"Well, that's their goal. Having won two at home, it's now time to win on the road, so yes, I think they have," Fitzpatrick, who lives in Britain, said.
"I think they are in good shape. They have got the best coach in the world and some of the best players, so they have got every chance."
He said player development since the last tournament had the All Blacks in good shape 18 months out from their defence of the cup.
"Go through the whole team. I think probably a good analogy would be to say in 2011 we probably had four or five world-class players, where now we probably have 10 world-class players." Fitzpatrick saw the Springboks as the All Blacks' greatest threat.
"It looks like we'll probably play South Africa in the semifinal if we get through that far. So yeah, the best two teams in the world at the moment are New Zealand and South Africa," he said.
"At the moment they are a good challenge, but as we have seen from other campaigns, the French tend to get in the way occasionally."
He said that while the World Cup had taken over as the game's priority, the All Blacks would never relinquish their desire to win every test every year. That had had been a standard to aspire to during his time in the black jersey, and it hadn't changed.
"Our vision was to be the best team in the world, and whatever game we played that was our goal, and that hasn't changed," he said.
"Now there's a focus on every four years and making sure that you have your team prepared for the World Cups, but the All Black coaches realise that if they start losing games they are going to lose their jobs before they get to the World Cup, and it's the same with the players."
He rated the World Cup as "the ultimate", with a series against the British and Irish Lions the next best.
He felt New Zealand was coping well with the player drain.
"I think that's just the way of the world at the moment, that we are going to lose players on a more regular basis," he said.
"The good thing about it is that we are not losing All Blacks, current All Blacks, and the other good thing at the moment is that we are actually getting players returning after doing two or three years away.
"They are coming back, so that's a change in the trends that we had been experiencing in previous years."
He was confident New Zealand would continue to produce world-class players because of the systems in place and the talent available, despite its small population.
"I think the conveyor belt of players is all down to the way that they identify good young players," he said.
"The identification process of the New Zealand Rugby Union is very good. The coaching systems are very good, and also probably the most important thing, it's a way of life.
"As long as the All Blacks keep winning, most little Johnnies want to be All Blacks."
On the All Blacks' chances of finally winning a gong at the Laureus Awards, Fitzpatrick was more guarded.
"I don't know. I've given up trying really," he said.
"I tried as hard as I could in 2011 with a serious amount of lobbying, and that didn't work.
"Look, to be honest, we won the World Cup in 2011 and didn't get team of the year, so to go undefeated, hopefully that will be enough.
"Fifth time nominated, fifth time lucky I'm hoping."
The All Blacks are up against German football club Bayern Munich, the Brazil football team, the Miami Heat basketballers, the Red Bull Formula One team and tennis double stars the Bryan twins, Bob and Mike.