New Zealand will begin their quest to make history when taking on Argentina in their opening match of the 2015 Rugby World Cup at Wembley on Sunday. Having lifted the trophy on home soil four years ago, the All Blacks are attempting to become the first team in the competition’s 28-year history to retain the trophy.
Steve Hansen’s side are favorites to do just that having been unchallenged at the top of the World Rugby rankings for the past six years. But New Zealand have previously been acquainted with the huge disappointment of being the most talented team on paper but failing to make that count when it matters most, notably when suffering a shock quarterfinal exit to France in 2007. And Hansen believes that the key will be to not get distracted by the prize that potentially lies in wait in the final in six weeks’ time.
“No one’s done it [retained the World Cup] before so it must be difficult,” he said in a press conference on Friday. “But that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Someone’s going to have to do it first and we’re the only ones in this tournament that have got an opportunity. Again, though, I want to emphasize, we learned in ’07 if you look too far ahead you get on a plane and go home. We’ll just worry about Argentina this week and Namibia the next game and so forth. It’s an old cliche, but one we’re holding onto.
“This team has got a lot of talent and it’s got a lot of self-belief, now we just need to have the hunger and the desire and the work ethic and to use the luck we get. I’m confident that what we’ve done the last four years has put us in good shape to give it a good rattle.”
Another thing the All Blacks have is experience. Indeed, the lineup announced to take on Argentina at Wembley will, with 1,013, feature more Test caps than any other in international rugby history. Eight of the starting XV began the final against France four years ago, including captain Richie McCaw. Among those not involved in that match is the highest points scorer in international history, Dan Carter, who, in his final matches for his country, is looking to make amends for suffering a tournament-ending injury in the early stages of the last World Cup.
Drawn into Pool C, alongside, Tonga, Georgia, Namibia, as well as Argentina, New Zealand are expected to have little trouble making it through to the last eight. But they will be keen to avoid a potential pitfall against an Argentina team that promises to be their biggest challengers for top spot.
Third-place finishers in 2007 and quarterfinalists four years ago, Argentina are now reaping the benefits of competing in the annual Rugby Championship, alongside southern hemisphere powers New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. And in this year’s edition the Pumas finished off the bottom of the standings for the first time, courtesy of a stunning 37-25 victory against South Africa in Durban.
What Argentina have never done, though, is beat New Zealand. Most recently there was a 39-18 defeat in Christchurch in July, and the All Blacks also came out on top in the quarterfinals of the 2011 World Cup.
Kickoff time: 11:45 a.m. EDT
TV channel: Available on pay-per-view by contacting your TV provider.
Live stream: All 48 matches are available to stream for a price of $199..99, with individual matches starting at $27.95.