Rugby: Kiwi trio welcome rivalry

From left: All Blacks props Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett ahead of the launch of the Why AIG campaign yesterday. The trio are upbeat about the state of the sport, especially England's potential challenge to their 18-match win record.
From left: All Blacks props Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett ahead of the launch of the Why AIG campaign yesterday. The trio are upbeat about the state of the sport, especially England's potential challenge to their 18-match win record.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

All Blacks eyeing England's unbeaten run as they hail the rise of attack-dominated rugby

New Zealand may be the top-ranked rugby team in the world, but they are well aware that their rivals cannot wait to knock them off their perch.

The All Blacks are coming off a stellar season after winning 13 out of 14 matches this year and claiming a world-record 18 consecutive Test match victories. Their only loss this year was to Ireland during the first game of their Northern Tour this month.

All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett, 33, told The Straits Times at the Four Seasons Hotel yesterday: "There are a number of teams that are right up at the top end - look at the way Ireland have been playing over the last few months, and Australia and the English have been playing some good rugby as well.

"Any day, just like when we lost to Ireland in Chicago, any one of those teams can trip each other up, so it's certainly very competitive."

His team-mate Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 24, who made his international debut this year, agreed but insisted the challenge from other nations is welcome.

RELISHING THE COMPETITION

I think it will be good for us if they do beat our record; it'll give us something more to strive for and to beat it again.

JOE MOODY, All Blacks prop, on the prospect of England breaking their record 18-Test winning run.

"It's going good for us, knowing that there are other teams that are competitive and are doing really well," he added. "This drives us to be better in making sure that we do what we need to do to stay ahead."

Crockett and Tu'ungafasi, together with fellow prop Joe Moody, are in town for the launch of Why AIG, a new campaign that highlights the insurance company's role as a business partner committed to delivering value to customers.

The All Blacks' 24-19 win over France on Sunday was a tight affair that saw their opponents almost stage a comeback in the second half of the match.

But the trio believe the high level of competition among the top rugby teams ultimately bodes well for the sport, with 28-year-old Moody saying: "If you were going to a game and you pretty much knew the outcome of a game before it was played, no one would want to watch. So the fact that there's good competition out there and the outcome of any game is never decided until the final whistle, that's definitely good for world rugby."

Crockett, 33, added: "When we played the French on the weekend, they played some exciting rugby and took the game to us, which I think is good for the spectators to see. Going back a couple of years, you hear of quite a few teams that were pretty defensive in their mindset and perhaps wouldn't pass the ball around too much in the team.

"Now the top teams are all using the ball and playing attacking-brand rugby, which is great for the spectators."

Also seeing success on the pitch this year are world No. 2 England, who notched their 13th consecutive win after a 27-14 effort over Argentina on Saturday.

The English have come a long way since crashing out at the pool stage of last year's Rugby World Cup on home soil and they will eclipse the All Blacks' 18-win streak if they beat Australia on Saturday and win all their games at the Six Nations Championship beginning in February - a feat Moody believes is "definitely achievable".

"I think it will be good for us if they do beat our record; it'll give us something more to strive for and to beat it again," he said. "Whether or not they do, that's no easy task, so good luck to them."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Kiwi trio welcome rivalry'. Print Edition | Subscribe