Men in black eye smash sequel

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw (centre), involved in a scrum during the Bledisloe Cup match with Australia, is expected to call it a day after the upcoming World Cup campaign. His team have been almost unbeatable since they triumphed in the 2011 edi
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw (centre), involved in a scrum during the Bledisloe Cup match with Australia, is expected to call it a day after the upcoming World Cup campaign. His team have been almost unbeatable since they triumphed in the 2011 edition.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Fullback Dagg says All Blacks can retain title but will not be complacent during World Cup

All the New Zealand fans must be dreading the Rugby World Cup "champions' curse" - where no nation have yet to retain the Webb Ellis trophy.

However, All Blacks star Israel Dagg insists that he holds no fear for such a bad omen. Instead, the fullback believes nothing will stop the defending champions from lifting the crown once again, come Oct 31 at England's famous Twickenham Stadium.

Victory at the final in London would also see the All Blacks, who also won the inaugural edition in 1987, break out of a tie with South Africa and bitter rivals Australia.

They would then be the most successful nation at the showpiece event with three World Cup wins.

"We've been building up to this for the past four years. Doesn't matter the competition, we want to win every match and we've been on a great run for a few years," Dagg told The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview.

"If we lose, I'm sure questions will be asked of us but we have the hunger to do well."

The 27-year-old has been hampered by injuries this season but is slowly regaining the form that saw him emerge as one of the standout players of the 2011 tournament.

He scored five tries in that campaign on home soil as the All Blacks took full advantage of their fanatical support. They roared through the competition before edging France in a tense final at Eden Park.

The All Blacks are also coming off last Saturday's morale-boosting 41-13 hammering of Australia, which gave the world No. 1 nation a 13th straight Bledisloe Cup.

"The boys can take a lot of confidence from that performance. It's going to take a lot of hard work but we're going over there to win the Cup," vowed Dagg.

The 1.86m-tall player with the booming right foot sat out the weekend's match.

However, he expects to play a starring role when the All Blacks kick off their World Cup campaign against eighth- ranked Argentina at Wembley Stadium on Sept 20.

The All Blacks are in Pool C with Tonga (No. 10), Georgia (13) and Namibia (20), and are likely to face either Pool D sides France or Ireland in the quarter-finals.

The Irish, ranked second in the world for the first time in their history, secured back-to-back Six Nations Championship titles earlier this year. They could be the dark horses of the seven-week tournament, noted Dagg, who also highlighted the threats of South Africa, England and, of course, Australia.

The All Blacks' most recent defeat did come at the hands of their bitter rivals earlier this month. Australia have the proud record of having won both their World Cups (1991 and 1999) on the British Isles .

Nevertheless, the All Blacks have been near-unbeatable since their 2011 Cup triumph, losing just three times in a four-year span.

In 2013, they became the first rugby nation in the professional era to achieve a 100 per cent winning record in a calendar year.

There will be no complacency from the favourites though. "There are a lot of good teams and we can't afford any slip-ups," said Dagg. "It's important to get off to a strong start and I'm sure the boys will be able to cope with the pressure."

Filming of the newly-released Air New Zealand on-board safety video - in which Dagg and several team-mates playfully spoof the hit Will Smith movie Men In Black - was one way to ease the tension.

Said Dagg, who raps and dances in the four-minute clip: "I was really excited to be asked to be a part of it.

"The filming was quite a bit different for the boys than our usual rugby environment.

"It was fun to rap such an iconic movie soundtrack song. Hopefully, I've done it some justice."

The music video also features captain Richie McCaw who is expected to retire after the tournament.

Said Dagg: "He's been an absolute legend for us and it'll be a big loss when he leaves. But knowing him, he won't want to talk about it until he's done the job at the World Cup."

On rugby's grandest stage, a planet awaits to see if the All Blacks can cast their own spell.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Men in black eye smash sequel'. Print Edition | Subscribe