Zinzan Brooke Interview: The uncertainty and inconsistency around New Zealand is a concern

New Zealand have experienced highs and lows in 2022
©Steve Haag Sports

In years gone by when Zinzan Brooke has weighed up New Zealand's chances of success, the answer has more often than not been an All Blacks win.

It is hard to argue with that. One of the greatest players to wear the famous jersey, Brooke was part of the squad which lifted the first edition of the World Cup in 1987 before going on to have so many iconic moments while representing his nation.

There has always been an aura and the feeling of invincibility surrounding New Zealand - which the now 57-year-old helped create - but the expectation for the All Blacks to 'rule them all' has been tempered in 2022.

"I am a little bit concerned," Brooke tells TRU when we reflect on a year which has included a first-ever series defeat to Ireland on home turf, a loss to Argentina in Christchurch as well as an unconvincing display against Scotland last weekend.

"There is that uncertainty. The All Blacks need to make sure they are a lot sharper and retain possession and control the field territory going forward because it has been too easy at times for other teams."

Granted, the All Blacks did get over the line in Edinburgh to stretch their winning run to six matches and now they head into their clash with England this weekend with confidence beginning to grow.

Their display against Wales two weeks ago was a lot more like it from New Zealand too. Their quality and cutting edge was certainly not in short supply in Cardiff but Brooke believes they still need to 'turn the page' and 'demonstrate what an All Blacks side can do.'

The pressure which was piled on All Blacks head coach Ian Foster during the summer has been alleviated due to changes in coaching personnel - combined with results on the field - but the current Rugby Championship holders are still lacking the consistency that Brooke and New Zealand supporters demand.

The legendary No.8 has also been in and amongst the All Blacks camp during the autumn as he watched their training session before that aforementioned 55-23 victory over Wales. What he witnessed was New Zealand focusing on the fundamentals, an approach Brooke feels could be key as they seek success at Twickenham on Saturday.

"When you get that inconsistency of the game you are going to produce, that creates a little bit of a worry," says Brooke, who was speaking on behalf of FairBettingSites.co.uk. "When Sean Fitzpatrick was captain it was just do the basics, just get ourselves in the game to make sure we had control of it and do it that way. Go back to route one and actually just do the fundamentals right.

"I saw the All Blacks training session before Wales and the execution of what they did and what they were trying to do to demonstrate how they wanted to play was clearly obvious. They got it right on the day but a week later, they go back and fall asleep after seven or eight minutes [v Scotland]. You are then scratching your head and thinking; 'How do you actually play that one week ago and then you are doing this this week' so that creates the uncertainty."

Facing New Zealand was once the most daunting task in the sport, but Brooke feels the rollercoaster nature of 2022 has given opposition nations hope that the All Blacks are no longer untouchable. They used to be the side which repeatedly delivered knockout blow after knockout blow but now teams are offering more than just the odd counterpunch.

"That concern is there, but isn't that good for the game?" he adds. "The last thing you want to be doing though is underestimating an All Black. I have been in those situations not too many times, but when you're wounded, you look to guys like Fitzy who upped the ante.

"Richie McCaw's legacy says it all and the duration of that All Blacks side was absolutely phenomenal. I know that these guys when they put on that black jersey, that represents not just you and your team. We have seen the All Blacks rattled but there is the expectation of a lot of supporters for a long period of time that want that wishlist of making sure that you do the right thing and get the result."

Lose against England on Saturday, and it would match New Zealand's worst year of results for 24 years. The All Blacks will be determined to enter 2023 with a victory over Eddie Jones' men as the teams prepare to meet for the first time since the 2019 World Cup semi-final.

The England boss has already fired shots at the All Blacks stating they are "vulnerable" and a side in a "redevelopment" period under Foster. Kyle Sinckler also revealed how three years ago in Japan, Jones sliced a kiwi fruit in two with a samurai sword to represent how beatable New Zealand were while the infamous V-shaped reaction to the haka added more fuel to the fire.

England may hark back to one of their greatest victories under Jones to provide some inspiration ahead of Saturday, but Brooke insists the Kiwis won't be paying any attention to mind games in the media or tales of Yokohama as New Zealand look to conclude a turbulent year on a positive note.

"He [Jones] can say as much as he wants because it just gives us ammunition," Brooke says. "You think we are vulnerable, and yes we have seen it in a few cases this year, but we have won six matches on the trot.

"Once upon a time, I was a player and whoever is making public comments about the opposition, then you want to square it off on the pitch. Managers and that kind of thing, they just want to wind you up or just say the wrong thing at the wrong time but I never sort of got wound up by that.

"I have sat in many All Black locker rooms and when you get the final call, you just worry about what you can actually change on the field. All that stuff that has gone before off the pitch and in past matches, it is just the game time that is actually in front of you that matters.

"Some of these players have got 100 matches under their belt. They have got that experience and they are totally used to all the slagging off, but at the end of the day, you just have to worry about the 80 minutes on the pitch and just crack on with it."