Sport360’s Alam Khan talks exclusively to three World Cup winners about what it takes to lift the Webb Ellis Cup.
Michael Lynagh, who helped Australia beat hosts England in 1991, ex-winger Joe Roff – a member of the 1999 Wallabies side who overcame France – and Ben Kay, part of England’s epic 20-17 win over the Aussies four years later in 2003.
LYNAGH: We had a reasonable group and although we didn’t play particularly well to start with, we knew we had a good team. We went in with confidence and it was a big thing to win it.
In 1987, that was our first experience of the tournament and we really didn’t know what to expect, and 1991 was a big opportunity for us and we knew we had the opportunity to do something special.
ROFF: I was one of the kids in 1991 who watched when Nick Farr-Jones held the trophy aloft. I was one of the kids inspired by that and knew how we could inspire the next generation.
After the disappointment of losing in the quarter finals in 1995 when expectations were greater as reigning champions, it was important for us to do something in this tournament. We had a quiet confidence about what we could achieve. We went under the radar a bit and focused on what we wanted, not getting caught up in the hype.
KAY: We were in a good position of having a great build-up, number one in the world and if we got everything right we should win. We thought we were the best team and whatever was thrown at us we could deal with. We also felt we were the fittest team, whether that was conning ourselves in how we had trained and the build-up, but psychologically it was a big fillip.
We felt, if we were behind, whatever happens their legs would go first and we would come back. The fact we had beaten all the Southern Hemisphere teams at Twickenham regularly in the previous three years helped too. We had that belief. For us, and for the opposition, we proved we could beat anyone, no matter the time of year or the place.
LYNAGH: We had Argentina, Wales and Samoa in our group and got past them – just. Gradually it built up nicely. We played a nice style, had a good defence, were well organised and crucially we didn’t have a lot of injuries either.
ROFF: We got through the pools comfortably and then beat Wales in Wales and South Africa in England and then ultimately France. We knew the games would get harder and harder. That’s why the focus was on what our team was doing and our own process, not what the opposition was doing.
KAY: We wanted a bit of a holiday and [coach] Clive [Woodward] took us to Perth where our first two games were. We had five days getting used to it, on holiday, no training. It was a social thing. It was probably the most inspired thing, and something the boys were all complaining about until we did it.
South Africa was our focus, the first big game and we performed well in it, winning 25-6. It set a marker.
LYNAGH: My own was against Ireland in the quarter-final, where we were down 18-15 with about four minutes to go.
The fact we were able to come back and score my try to win by a point, showed what that team was capable of, going that extra bit. We believed we could win. We had that quality.
ROFF: France beating New Zealand 43-31 in the semis. I’m not going to lie, but we were starting to mentally play the All Blacks in the final. It was a surprise and we had to stop ourselves getting carried away.
KAY: There were probably two. The quarter-final against Wales when we were outplayed at the start and things weren’t looking good when we went into the break 10-3 down.
We had a meeting after that, and the questions about why we didn’t hit. We went to bed thinking we were a bit lethargic, maybe training too hard and were not going to get any fitter. A lot of the training sessions were then cut leading to the semi-final against France and that performance was key because they were favourites in that game.
LYNAGH: We had some very good, strong, experienced players, and some young ones who went on to become greats, like [John] Eales, Tim Horan and Jason Little. But there were a couple of others who stood out for me. One was our winger Rob Egerton who only played that year and didn’t play much after that.
ROFF: Ealesy. His calm leadership was exactly what we needed in critical moments throughout that World Cup and it’s difficult to look past his role in our success.
There are different types of leaders and he’s a servant leader, in that his message was ‘I will do everything you need me to do to get across that line’.
KAY: It’s the only time I’ve played in a squad and can’t pick one out. Jonny [Wilkinson] gets the plaudits for his winning drop goal in the final, but there was Martin Johnson and the whole leadership was phenomenal. He never had dips in form, he’d just go and do it, and that rubbed off on others.
LYNAGH: The team was in pretty good shape, had five-six weeks together so there was not a huge amount to say really for the final against England.
[Coach] Bob [Dwyer] didn’t jump up and down in his speech and he didn’t need to. We were never comfortable as the 12-6 scoreline will show. We missed a few opportunities and England were tough.
ROFF: We were all committed and knew what we had to do. That period, it was the first World Cup after rugby had turned professional and the coaching staff drew on the expertise particularly in defence of rugby league and other codes who have been strong in that area for a long time.
More than anything we felt we had a psychological edge in that. We went through a whole World Cup conceding just one try, against the United States, and we stopped France too.
KAY: As we went out we were waiting for Jonno [Martin Johnson]. I played with him at club level as well, and for the big games you get to the edge of the tunnel just before you run out on the pitch and he would say something to you.
For the final, we were all waiting and he just ran off. The message was clear, ‘what am I going to say? The guys are ready, I don’t need to say anything’. We conspired to almost throw it away, gave away a lot of penalties, but every time they scored a penalty, we felt we would go to their end and score one of our own.
Winning the Cup
LYNAGH: It’s the pinnacle of your career. Every four years that is the biggest test. Rugby in Australia is not the No 1 sport, but it was at that time and lifted rugby into a new environment and was special for all of us involved too.
ROFF: It’s the top of the mountain, it’s Everest. In hindsight, though, it’s not about the actually lifting of the trophy, but the memories, the journey, having those experiences and laughs.
KAY: There was a feeling of relief probably. What I remember also is not the fireworks and the trophy presentation, but shutting the changing room door and being in there with the squad of 31 players and coaches, not wanting that moment to end.
Thoughts on 2015
LYNAGH: Can’t see beyond New Zealand. On form to date, they are the best team by a stretch. I’m excited about the young kid I’ve been watching this year, Nehe Milner-Skudder. He’s pretty special, an outstanding talent.
Other teams are getting closer and France might surprise and Samoa might cause a shock in their group. Australia can do well, they have a good shape, good depth and a good environment.
ROFF: New Zealand are the benchmark. But there’s an enormous weight of expectation and, as the current incumbents, that only grows.
Australia are not under any illusions of how big the challenge is. I spent a bit of time with them before they came out and they’re in a good place at the moment. The Israel Folaus and Matt Giteaus are the best and the impact they have on players around them and the game itself you can’t fail to see that.
KAY: New Zealand will be the favourites and rightly so and home advantage could make a difference for England. But equally it could be bad if they don’t play well and the pressure mounts and it starts to become a frustration and affect their confidence. But for me the sleeping giants are South Africa.
They always do well in a World Cup. Joe Roff will be appearing at Rugby Clubhouse at The Velocity Sports Lounge at the JW Marriott Marquis Dubai on October 4 and 11.
Visit www.watchrugbyindubai.com for more information. Michael Lynagh and Ben Kay are part of ITV’s World Cup coverage.
The 2015 Rugby World Cup will kick-off in England on Friday and all eyes are already focused on defending champions New Zealand—once more favourites for the title.
The All Blacks shook off their ‘chokers’ tag four years ago with a victory on home soil, but the fact remains that they have never won the World Cup on the road despite regularly entering the tournament as the world’s leading side.
With that in mind, our #360debate today is: Will New Zealand retain the Rugby World Cup?
ANDREW BINNER, sport360.com, thinks YES.
Every victorious World Cup side has been built upon three key components: good form, experience and strength in depth. With five days until the tournament starts no one challenges the All Blacks in any of these departments and for this reason, the champions will retain their title in England.
While the remarkable improvement of northern hemisphere opposition will undoubtedly make the world champions’ task harder than in 2011, there has not been sufficient enough progress to suggest that Richie McCaw won’t be lifting the trophy at Twickenham on October 31.
The only realistic threats to Steve Hansen’s men come in the form of Ireland, South Africa, Australia and England. While all four teams possess the required experience and form to win the competition, they all fall short in the vital third category.
World Cup’s are a war of attrition and the All Blacks are the only team that can cope with a glut of injuries while retaining their impeccably high standards.
If one of Johnny Sexton or Paul O’Connell go down, Ireland’s chances will fall with them. South Africa are a team in transition with little consistency while Australia are a supremely talented but inexperienced side and England are a couple of years away from their prime.
Doubters will point to the host’s thrashing of the All Blacks at Twickenham in 2012 and a recent loss to the Wallabies as a cause for concern in New Zealand, but history says that those rare losses do little other than galvanise the Kiwis.
— adidas UK (@adidasUK) September 12, 2015
Australia’s All Black upset in 2011 grounded New Zealand and energised their team to devastating effect in the World Cup, while England also will have to make do without their most potent attacking weapon on that famous day in Manu Tuilagi.
Sir Clive Woodward talked about the all-important spine of a team carrying them though the rigours of a World Cup and in Dane Coles, Brodie Retallick, Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Dan Carter and Ben Smith it would take a minor miracle to rattle those bones.
JAMES PIERCY, deputy editor, thinks NO.
Since the last World Cup, Steve Hansen’s side have won 42 of 47 games – a success rate of 89.3 per cent – losing just three and scoring an average of 32 points per match.
In the four years leading up to their success in 2011, that record was 36 wins in 45 with a win percentage of 80 per cent. The best and most dominant team on the planet have become more dominant.
Yet the fact remains that when the World Cup has been played on European soil, they have never got beyond the semi-finals.
Whether it be the pressure, conditions or the fact New Zealand just don’t travel well, it’s a damning statistic which runs contrary to their superiority.
Winning a second title is always harder than the first. The motivation has to exceed what was generated before. Why climb Everest a second time when you know what the view is like?
The 2011 veterans have got to raise their games to surpass the expectations placed on them back home, having experienced that once-in-a-limetime moment already. And it’s those veterans which leave the major question marks over this side.
Their expected starting XV which, barring injuries, should serve them throughout the tournament contains five in their 30s: Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Jerome Kaino, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith. All titans of the game but all with their best days behind them.
The Nonu-Smith midfield axis, especially, could start to look very creaky in the latter stages against such ebullient back lines as Australia, England and France, if Philippe Saint-Andre takes the shackles off.
Carter’s once laser-guided kicking game has shown signs of ageing while he played most of the season for Canterbury at inside centre, a move which only highlighted his increasing lack of penetration with the ball in hand.
In 2011, the All Blacks entered their home tournament as one of two likely winners; alongside the Wallabies who had just beaten them in Brisbane. It was effectively theirs to lose.
In 2015, on foreign soil, there are six, maybe seven, likely champions. It’s a varied and deep field and one that this side won’t be able to plough its way through.
Census Johnston will get to play in his third World Cup only months after announcing his retirement from Test rugby when he was called up to the Samoan squad on Friday.
The 34-year-old 51-times capped prop – who called time on his international career in April on the back of signing an extension to his contract with French giants Toulouse – gets his chance as Leicester Tigers Logovi’i Mulipola is injured.
— census johnston (@cenjohnston) September 11, 2015
“Huge honour to be called back into @manusamoa squad for the World Cup. Looking forward to joining the team Monday,” tweeted Johnston, who played in the 2007 and 2011 editions.
The New Zealand-born Johnston, who has won three French titles, two with Toulouse and one with Biarritz as well as a European Cup with his present side, is still expected to face Pau on Sunday.