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Experts back All Blacks to break the jinx at home this time

Disaster-struck New Zealand begin tournament against the odds

Image Credit: Reuters
New Zealand All Blacks’ Jimmy Cowan passes a ball to Mils Muliaina during the All Blacks Captain’s run ahead of theirRugby World Cup opening match against Tonga. New Zealand are to play against Tonga today.
Gulf News

Dubai: If, like the Rainbow Nation of 1995, every Rugby World Cup had a theme of greater significance, New Zealand's 2011 World Cup, which kicks-off Friday in Auckland, should be in celebration of the island's resolve.

Recovery from a 6.3 magnitude earthquake, which killed 181 people from 15 countries on February 22, became New Zealand's second worst natural disaster since the 7.8 magnitude Hawks Bay quake of 1931.

The world's third most costliest disaster of all time set the New Zealand economy back around NZ$ 16 billion (Dh49 billion) and resulted in the loss of the AMI Stadium in the tournament's inventory meaning five pool games and two quarter-finals had to be relocated.

But against all odds the seventh Rugby World Cup kicks-off today at Auckland's Eden Park as planned with an opening display of Phoenix-rising grit from The All Blacks against their Pacific foes Tonga.

Despite dominating world rugby's top rank longer than any other Test nation, the All Blacks have just one Web Ellis trophy for their troubles from the first edition in 1987, when the Kiwis last hosted the event. They've since bulked in three semi finals, one final and the quarters.

Sixteenth man

While the home factor also helped South Africa in 1995 — more memorably marking the end of Apartheid — this time its external ‘sixteenth man' influences again which tips honours in the host's favour.

"If you count the percentages, the Haka, the black jersey, the fact they are going in favourites, the fact that they are perennial world number ones and they've had the adversity of family loss and destruction in the country you'd struggle to overcome that in any of those big games — it would be a fairytale if they won, you couldn't write that romance," former Wales centre and OSN Showtime panelist Scott Gibbs told Gulf News.

Former England centre Jeremy Guscott added: "I don't know whether it's pre-destined or pre-ordained [as a result of the spirit of recovery] but factually New Zealand is very difficult to beat in Auckland. That's where the semi finals and finals will be held, if they can get that far, which they should. That Auckland factor will be a huge influence."

"New Zealand is far and above all in terms of fitness and skill — there's so much emotion around New Zealand that most neutrals are willing them to win the World Cup in the face of disaster. Richie McCaw is unquestionably the best Number Seven of all-time and to not see him win something concrete for his country would be a great shame," said Guscott.