On average, New Zealand’s weather is a little chillier than most countries. After all, Antarctica is literally the next stop if you were to take a tour around the world.
But the temperature across the Tasman is even colder than usual right now.
Why? The All Blacks’ Rugby World Cup ghosts are hovering around New Zealand players and fans like an obese man at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
When New Zealand plays France at Eden Park to determine the winner of the 2011 World Cup on Sunday, the pressure and scrutiny on the home team will be unfathomable. Yes, most would give anything to don the prestigious black jersey – but seriously, who would want to be under all that stress?
It is no secret the All Blacks do not enjoy Rugby World Cup crunch games. In the past, they have been unable to carry their solid form in pool matches into the knockout stage.
Despite their world rugby dominance for countless years, the All Blacks have won just one World Cup – the inaugural one in 1987. What is even harder to fathom is they had only featured in two penultimate finals before this year’s campaign.
The past two World Cup exits have been particularly hard for New Zealand fans to swallow.
The All Blacks flopped against the Aussies in the 2003 semi-finals and had to settle for a third-place playoff. After the tournament, coach John Mitchell saw his local General Practitioner, who diagnosed Mitchell’s team with a case of stage-fright.
Then 2007 was supposed to be New Zealand’s year under the new captain-coach combination of Richie McCaw and Graham Henry. However it didn’t even make it to into the semi-finals, bowing out in the quarter-finals and returning home to the vicious wrath of the New Zealand public.
Here is where the nerves really kick in for the All Blacks. The team they lost to in 2007? France. The team they will play on Sunday? France.
If a rugby virgin glanced at the overall record between New Zealand and France for the first time, they would think the home team shouldn’t have too many issues. The teams have met each other 50 times, with the All Blacks winning 37 matches and Les Blues winning 12. The other match was a draw.
But out of all the northern hemisphere teams in the tournament, New Zealand would have preferred to not line up against France.
In five World Cup matches between the two teams, the ledger is 3-2 in the Blacks’ favour. But France’s two shock victories in the 1999 semi-final and the 2007 quarter-final have scarred New Zealanders for life. Mentioning past World Cup results to All Blacks fans is like wizards uttering ‘Lord Voldemort’ in a Harry Potter film.
Les Blues are the quintessential bogey team for the All Blacks, because they always seem to move up a gear. This wasn’t the case when the two teams met earlier in the tournament, with New Zealand comfortably winning the pool match 37-17. But that clash counts for nothing now, because France has looked a much more confident and classy outfit since its final pool game.
The French will start the match as the clear underdog. But they will play with a nothing-to-lose mentality. And they might receive some assistance from evil spirits.
But the All Blacks’ fate is now in their own hands. How much effect those phantoms have is up to them.
Henry’s men know they have had close to a perfect tournament until now. They know they won every pool game by at least 20 points. They know how brilliant and clinical they were in disposing Argentina and Australia in their two finals matches.
Perhaps the pain the All Blacks endured at the past two Rugby World Cups will put them in the correct frame of mind. Perhaps they will be fuelled by past failures. Perhaps they will absorb the pressure and turn it into excitement, rather than get bogged down by the expectation.
How must New Zealand fans be feeling now?
It has been 24 years since David Kirk lifted the Webb Ellis Trophy at Eden Park, so they must be excited knowing they could witness their team win a World Cup on home soil.
But they must be a little nervy too. Imagine if… nope, I won’t write it. There are simply no exceptions – victory is mandatory.
If the All Blacks are able to maintain their mental toughness and ignore those evil spirits on Sunday night, they will win the World Cup. In all facets, they are a better team than France – simple as that.
And if the All Blacks win, perhaps the sun will shine a little brighter in New Zealand on Monday and the temperature might be a tad warmer.
Ben Waterworth is a final-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University and is upstart’s former sports editor. You can follow him on Twitter: @bjwaterworth
This article was originally published on The Roar’s sports opinion website and kindly reproduced here thanks to The Roar. Submit your own sports article for potential publication.