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‘Really confident’: Kirwan tips All Blacks to shine and picks World Cup ‘dark horse’

By Finn Morton
The All Blacks perform the haka during the The Rugby Championship & Bledisloe Cup match between the Australia Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 29, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Legendary All Black Sir John Kirwan is “really confident” that New Zealand will win the upcoming Rugby World Cup after overcoming fierce scrutiny and adversity.

The All Blacks have hit their stride under Head Coach Ian Foster this year, and are now the bookmakers’ favourites to hoist the Webb Ellis Cup.

But the horror, disappointments, and rugby tragedies of the last 18 months may never be forgotten – and they shouldn’t be, either. It’s what made this All Blacks outfit who they are.

The All Blacks shot out of the blocks in 2022 with a big win over northern hemisphere heavyweights Ireland at Eden Park. But a week is a long time in professional rugby.

Ireland bounced back with their first-ever win over the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, and repeated history in an enthralling series decider in Wellington.

Another loss to South Africa followed, which saw the All Blacks fall to a disastrous five losses from six Tests. All Blacks fans wanted Crusaders coach Scott Robertson on speed dial as they called for a change.

But New Zealand Rugby stuck by their man, 53 weeks ago today, with coach Foster remaining in the All Blacks’ hot seat through to the end of the World Cup.

Under Foster, and with assistants Joe Schmidt and Jason Ryan in support, the All Blacks look like world-beaters this year. They’ve begun to right the wrongs of yesteryear, but it all comes down to this.

The Rugby World Cup is just two weeks away.

“I’m really confident and I’m confident for a reason,” former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan told RugbyPass in London.

“Normally we play incredibly well and have no crisis or very little crisis from one World Cup to the next, then we lose the World Cup and we go into crisis.

“This time there was no crisis after the last World Cup, there was one 18 months ago. There are some incredible things that happened. I think adversity has brought this team closer together.

“World Cups are unpredictable, but I think we’ve got an incredibly good chance to win it along with France, along with South Africa and along with Ireland, and there’ll be a couple of surprise packages in there.

“I’ve been to enough World Cups to know that you can prepare as much as you want but it’s gonna throw you the unexpected.”

The All Blacks are in Pool A along with tournament hosts France, Italy, Uruguay and Namibia. Both New Zealand and France are expected to progress.

But the most interesting pool might actually involve Eddie Jones’ Wallabies. Australian fans have rejoiced in the fact that their team is on the ‘easier side’ of the draw.

Winning has proved hard to come by for Jones’ men, sure, but a potential quarter-final date with Argentina, Japan or possibly England awaits the Wallabies.

But they’ll have to get there, first.

The Wallabies are in Pool C with Wales, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal. Four of those teams make up the nations ranked eight through 11 on World Rugby’s men’s rankings – Australia, Fiji, Wales and Georgia.

Progressing through to the knockout rounds is both daunting and exciting.

Sitting next to Sir John Kirwan on Thursday, the 1987 Rugby World Cup winner hinted at the possibility of Australia bowing out early as he picked his “dark horse” to make it out of the group.

“Fiji. Fiji, mate. Fiji. Fiji. Fiji,” Kirwan added. “I don’t know if Wales go home (before the knockout stage).

“I think Fiji are really the dark horse just to get out of the pool.”

Kiwis can stream the Rugby World Cup on Sky Sport Now.