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Bloodsport

New Zealand's All Blacks Prove That You Don't Need a Prep School Pedigree to Dominate the Rugby World
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
John Travolta, Jan/Feb 99

(continued from page 3)

Cambridge, whose plodding players are slightly better than Oxford's, takes an early lead. It is a dull, dispiriting contest, and if the level of play is indicative of the future of English rugby, Saturday's miracle will not soon be repeated. But the aura holds. Then the drizzle stops and the sun breaks through a corner of the cloud cover, bathing the 30 players on the field in a light cast from heaven. And slowly, hesitantly, the Oxbridge crowd begins to sing. *

Postscript: Perhaps a season of 12 test matches without a defeat was ultimately too debilitating for the All Blacks. For, despite beginning 1998 with two overwhelming victories over England in New Zealand--64-22 in Dunedin and 40-10 in Auckland--they lost their remaining five tests for their worst Southern Hemisphere performance in memory. In its final match of 1998, a 19-14 loss to Australia in Sydney in late August, the listless side squandered a 14-6 second-half lead. The result marked Australia's first sweep of a series over New Zealand since 1929.

Nevertheless, the New Zealand Rugby Football Union has decided to retain coach John Hart. And there are signs that the All Blacks, who have lost only two World Cup matches ever, will begin the new season with the exuberance they have lately been lacking. With Lomu back at full strength, the emergence of Carl Hoeft, Royce Willis and Kees Meeuws as standouts, and a World Cup to inspire them, the All Blacks are considered among the favorites to capture the title in Cardiff, Wales. History is on their side.

A frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado, Bruce Schoenfeld lives in Colorado.


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