A semifinal defeat; legacies; and what now for the All Blacks?

New Zealand suffered their first Rugby World Cup loss since 2007 last Saturday against England, ending their hopes of a third straight Webb Ellis crown. ESPN columnist and former All Blacks prop Craig Dowd breaks down that defeat, this Saturday's final between England and South Africa, and what the future holds for New Zealand rugby below.


The All Blacks were beaten by the better team on the night and we've just got to take that one on the chin. The phoenix will rise again but this week is England's week. It's just the way it has panned out for us, we can't expect to win everything.

As a country we probably under-estimated just how good England are and how far they've come; Eddie Jones can rightfully take a bow because he brought some masterstrokes to that game at a coaching level.

One of the things we probably haven't asked ourselves is: How would we play against ourselves?

England targeted Richie Mo'unga in the defensive line in the first two minutes of the game - they scored through Mo'unga missing that tackle - they put a brute of a man running straight down his channel, of course it's a mismatch.

To create mismatches with two playmakers; to line that up to make it happen, that's genius. Jones and his coaching staff can take full credit for that.

New Zealand must ask themselves: Did the two playmakers' work? If we have to start hiding players defensively or protecting them then it is only natural for the opposition to have a look and say: 'Okay, you can put them there but we'll just run down that channel'.

And that's exactly what England did.

And then there are England flankers Sam Underhill and Tom Curry. Where they hell did they come from?

As a country we are guilty of not appreciating that other nations might also have players of top quality. We are so consumed with the idea that we have the best players in the world and don't acknowledge that other countries also have good players. These two are going to be stars who we will hear a lot about over the next few years.

But England have got a number of top players, none more-so than Maro Itoje. He was immense. His work-rate was huge and he just didn't stop. He, Underhill and Curry were everywhere. Their tight forwards got involved in everything. They just looked, stronger and fitter. Simply, they were better than their New Zealand opposites.

The All Blacks didn't fire a shot. Ardie Savea's try was more them making a mistake rather than us creating anything. That try aside, we didn't fire any other shots.

I think the way Steve Hansen and Kieran Read have fronted and acknowledged England were the better team was excellent. It's a sobering thing but rather than look to blame, to throw someone on the scrapheap or burn them at the stake, we should instead appreciate the intensity of that match. It was as good as a World Cup final.


We'll have to watch England and South Africa play out the decider instead, and it should be said that a World Cup final is different to any other Test match.

Don't write the Springboks off, though. South Africa are going to be up for the challenge and they will go into the final having seen what England did to the All Blacks; they will know what to expect.

Given that knowledge, they will have to be a hell of a lot better than they have been all year which I don't think they are a million miles away from. I think it's going to be a great final.

Forget all the talk about no team ever winning having lost an earlier game. A World Cup is about evolving and learning from when you start to when you finish. South Africa have come a long way.

You can look at 2011 when France were pretty average through the World Cup. You can look at 1995 when the All Blacks were clearly the best team but still lost the World Cup. Being red-hot favourites for a final means nothing. It comes down to who fronts on the night.


In relation to Steve Hansen's legacy, there might be some shade for a couple of months but once that fades he will be regarded as one of the greatest All Blacks coaches this country has ever seen, if not the greatest.

He's been involved in two World Cup wins; he might come third or fourth from this tournament, but it doesn't change what he's done and what's he's created.

For one coach to be involved in winning the World Cup twice is massive. He's developed players and he hasn't been afraid to make changes when he needed to make them.

We've watched Hansen grow from when he first started, from a deputy who was a bit rough around the edges, not quite wanting to be honest with the media, to the point where he is a head coach who will front any media, challenge any media, but be completely honest and up front. There's no agenda, his manner rubs off with the players. Steve is Steve, you know exactly what you're going to get with him.

Kieran Read is similar. We've seen him emerge from playing under the shadow of the greatest captain, serving as his deputy and he will also leave a huge legacy.

Take nothing away from how they bowed out of the 2019 World Cup, it is about what he's delivered over the last eight or nine years. He's been a great servant and you don't measure a person's career on one game. He's played hundreds of games and had some great moments.


I won't be happy if one loss, albeit a comprehensive one, in a World Cup semifinal to boot, resulted in a change of philosophy and a move to a more defensive style of game. We win because we go out to play rugby, to chance our arm while playing for 80 minutes. If the All Blacks changed that they would lose a lot more games.

In regards to the coaching situation the first thing I would be saying is that Warren Gatland should at least be given an interview. He's gone overseas and enjoyed a huge run of success with every involvement he has had. His success rate has been very, very impressive and I think for him to not at least have an interview - I know he has a commitment with the British & Irish Lions in 2021 --but anything is negotiable.

I saw the comment that it is impossible, but nothing is impossible. He is an ex-All Black; he's a Kiwi; and if he could do what he's done overseas for other countries and bring that to New Zealand then what an opportunity.

I know Joe Schmidt ruled himself out but he and Vern Cotter would be pretty attractive propositions. Again, they've had a good run of success overseas, they should reach out to them.

I think a lot of coaches will be nervous in applying. I would be surprised if NZR haven't had a headhunter go out and tap some people on the shoulder to say they would like to talk to them discreetly.

I don't know what Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown's contract arrangements are with Japan but someone surely has to have a chat with them.

And the old Dave Rennie-Tom Coventry combination I quite like as well. The coaches are there and the combinations there have proven results.

I would put Scott Robertson in a combination with Ian Foster. Individually neither spins my wheels nor gets me excited.

Together you have Foster who didn't have a lot of success with the Chiefs but has been deputy for the All Blacks for eight years, while I have a huge amount of respect with what Robertson has done with the Crusaders. He's different, has a great rapport with the players; they obviously love him.

But I'm nervous when the really hard calls have to be made whether Robertson has the experience. An All Blacks squad is different to a Crusaders squad. The players you have developed and nurtured are going to have to be discarded, at some point, at the next level for better players from elsewhere and that is where Foster may be able to help in that regard.

It is going to be an interesting process.

It is a bit of a poisoned chalice for whoever does get the job because it is following on from Steve Hansen. That is the level they will have to live up to.