Young talents like Cam Roigard and Tamaiti Williams thrived in the All Blacks environment, while veterans Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock and Dane Coles, though falling short of the Webb Ellis trophy, earned some silverware and another dance on the big stage. Here are the highlights from the All Blacks' journey, from the opening pool game to the final moments.
Young stars emerge
When Cam Roigard (22), Tamaiti Williams (23) and Leicester Fainga’anuku (24) were picked as part of the 33-man squad to represent New Zealand at the Rugby World Cup, many fans were surprised by their selections. Among the youngest players on the roster, and with minimal international experience before the World Cup, the talented trio stepped up on the biggest stage of all.
In Cam Roigard's first career start against Namibia, he scored two tries in the opening seven minutes of the game. Tamaiti Williams provided youth in the scrum and notched a first Test try against Uruguay. He also got minutes in the biggest game of the tournament against South Africa. Leicester played like a young Julian Savea, busting through tackles with ease and played a crucial role in the All Blacks quarterfinal victory over Ireland.
In addition to the above talented trio, Mark Tele'a was also named the World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year for his outstanding performances in the black jersey this year, including two tries in the opening game of the Rugby World Cup against France.
A quarterfinal for the ages
Before the World Cup started, the rugby world backed Ireland to break their quarterfinal curse and make a Rugby World Cup semifinal for the first time. After beating South Africa in the pool stage, the Irish looked like favourites for a run to the final. Who stood in their way? The All Blacks.
The men in black, motivated, and ready to fight, played the best game of their World Cup, showing their world-class offence and defence on the biggest stage. In a nail-biting finish, the All Blacks withstood a 37-phase Irish assault on the line before veteran Sam Whitelock lunged over the ball to produce a match-winning turnover.
The All Blacks 28-24 win over Ireland will go down in history as one of their greatest in World Cup play and has further entrenched the great rivalry emerging between the All Blacks and Ireland.
In a must-win game for the All Blacks against Italy, all the pressure was on them and boy, did they respond. Italy had been a steady improver over recent years and were expected to push the All Blacks close in their Pool A showdown.
With a quarterfinal spot on the line, the All Blacks scored an incredible 14 tries to defeat Italy 96-17.
In a 17-minute period of the game, the men in black scored 35 straight points, including an Aaron Smith hat trick.
The game was also memorable for Sam Whitelock who became the most capped All Black of all time, passing the great Richie McCaw. Being the sole survivor from the 2011 campaign, Sam has been one of the most consistent All Blacks in recent memory, and now, with the record for Test caps at 153 caps, this moment will be one that All Black fans remember for a long time.
Once the green wall of Ireland had been dealt with, all that stood in the way of the All Blacks making the final was Argentina. Within the first 20 minutes of the game, there was very little doubt that the All Blacks wouldn’t be in the final. Will Jordan scored a hat trick, Shannon Frizell scored twice, and the All Blacks didn’t allow Los Pumas to score a try the whole game. Although not as tense or exciting as the previous quarterfinal, the All Blacks did their job, and this game might be their best all-round tournament performance.
Though they didn’t get their hands on the Webb Ellis Trophy, this All Blacks team showed the world that the All Blacks can never be discounted. The legacy of the black jersey continues to inspire, and this team has taken their place in All Blacks history.