A year from the World Cup, New Zealand look good for a hat-trick of titles but Ireland, South Africa and Wales are all on the rise with England and Australia heading in the other direction
Defeat by South Africa in Wellington reminded the world that the All Blacks can be beaten – no bad thing with 12 months to go until the World Cup – but they are still the overwhelming favourites for a third straight win. They were not brilliant against France over the summer but then thrashed Australia twice, displaying an ability to find a gear their opponents cannot live with. It will be fascinating to see their response to defeat; do they add a dose of pragmatism to their blistering style, or do they double down? If the bigger picture continues to pose problems – New Zealand Rugby is expecting to make consistent losses from 2020 onwards and as Lima Sopoaga recently said, the player drain to Europe is not going to stop – Steve Hansen’s side are still setting a considerable pace.
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