On a mild Saturday afternoon at Twickenham a little over a year ago, an earmarked ‘super-sub’ by the name Beauden Barrett was running the length of the field, showing electric pace, to cement the All Blacks with their first ever Rugby World Cup win on foreign soil.
Richie and the boys had done it, the curse was lifted and the rugby world bowed.
And as Richie handed the cup around his teammates and began his final walk around his conquered battlefield as All Blacks captain, the question began to surface, could this incredible winning dynasty last without the legendary Richie McCaw?
Seven months on from that day at Twickenham, and a new-look All Blacks team, without six of their finest servants who between them boasted 707 caps, were lining up to do battle once again. This time against a Welsh team promising to threaten the New Zealand chokehold over the rugby world order.
The southern hemisphere had had its day; smugly taking all four of the semi-final positions in the prized tournament at the birthplace of rugby. A new dawn for northern hemisphere rugby beckoned.
Well, for 60 minutes it did.
What followed was a three match series drubbing of Wales, with each of the games remaining competitive for 60 minutes before the All Blacks put on the afterburners and made a statement: ‘We’re going up a gear.’
What lasted longer in everyone’s memories was not the emphatic score lines, but the quality of the attacking rugby that was on display.
The ‘super-sub’ from the RWC now turned scintillating fly half, had pace and vision that symbolised his wearing the number 10 jersey.
The rugby public were witnessing an unchartered display of miraculous offloads in 3 man tackles, chip kicks off set pieces in the heart of midfields, and most shockingly to the purists of the game, front rowers forfeiting securing ruck ball in favour of running a late cut into a gap.
These feats were gripped with raw excitement throughout New Zealand - it felt as though without the pressure of a world cup year, talent was being seen that had been waiting idle, eager to be let go into the rugby wilderness. And the results continued to speak for themselves.
Where previously a 9-6 victory over the Springboks in South Africa would have been a savoured win, here was a team putting 57 points on the Boks’ at one of the most feared and hostile grounds in the world, Kings Park in Durban.
It was difficult not to get caught up in the euphoria of it all; the All Blacks really were playing some incredible rugby. Yet there remained a skeptical voice from none other than the man at the helm of the seemingly impenetrable ship, Steve Hansen, blasphemously reckoning that the team would soon get beaten.
A sentiment echoed only by the boldest of talkback hosts. For one question did slowly start burrowing into people’s minds, “Just how good were the opposition they were playing?”
A fateful day in Chicago not only answered this question, but would reveal a chink in the armour that would provide new hope to any team facing the daunting task of trying to beat the All Blacks…