Andrew Gourdie: Are you prepared for Rugby World Cup heartbreak?

OPINION: What a couple of weeks it has been for fans of the All Blacks. 

Defeat to the Springboks in Wellington came as a genuine surprise. The team had, to this point, been so utterly dominant in the Rugby Championship - three wins from three, cruising to the title, and could all but sew it up with victory against a South African team coming off the back of a loss to Argentina and Australia.

How hard could this challenge really be?

And then it happens. The All Blacks make uncharacteristic errors, concede five tries, claw their way back, before blowing a chance to win it at the death.

Just like that, the seemingly unbeatable team suffer defeat, at home, against a side nobody perceived as a threat. The end is nigh.

The initial fan reaction is shock. Did that really happen? It did. But what a game! Congratulations to the Springboks, what a performance.

Then the inquest begins.

What the hell happened? What was Jordie thinking? What happened to Beauden's kicking? Where was Kieran's leadership? Where was the composure? Where was the plan B? Who's taking the drop goal? Did anyone think to take a drop goal? Can anyone *take* a drop goal?  Who is to blame?

So many questions. But all of them leave me asking this: are Kiwi rugby fans actually prepared for a big loss?

This was a Rugby Championship game, against South Africa, at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Fast forward a year, and imagine the possibility this was the Rugby World Cup final, against South Africa (or Ireland, or whoever) at Nissan Stadium in Yokohama.

These last couple of weeks have offered a chance to check our collective psyche and ask ourselves how we might react as a nation if the All Blacks lose the Rugby World Cup final.

We all probably like to think that after five bouts of quadrennial disappointment between 1991 and 2007 before finally knocking the bastard off in 2011, we've all grown up and would cope a little better if the All Blacks happened to fall short at another Rugby World Cup.

Andrew Gourdie: Are you prepared for Rugby World Cup heartbreak?

But it seems that going back-to-back, and dominating the international game for such an extended period has seen quite the opposite occur.

This team has been so successful that we expect the All Blacks to not only win every game, but annihilate every opponent with a brand of rugby other teams simply can't come close to matching.

The result is that just as the All Blacks themselves were unprepared for what they faced in the closing minutes against South Africa, fans too develop a mindset that leaves them completely unprepared for the possibility of defeat in a match that matters.

Even looking past the defeats to Australia (1991), South Africa (1995), France (1999), Australia (2003) and France, (2007), the All Blacks had moments during their last two World Cup wins when things so easily could have gone the other way.

Back-to-back World Cup wins give the impression of total dominance, but they came within a whisker of losing the 2011 final to France (after belting them in pool play), while South Africa very nearly sent New Zealand crashing out in the semi-finals in the 2015 edition.

Make no mistake: despite defeat in Wellington, the All Blacks are on track. They remain, without question, the best rugby team in the world. The coaching staff are smart, the players are operating on another level.

But they are not perfect. Sport doesn't always go to plan. Upsets happen. The All Blacks will lose another big match at some point in the future, and it could be in Japan next year.

Every New Zealander hopes for a three-peat. But expect it, and you're setting yourself up for Rugby World Cup heartbreak.

Andrew Gourdie is a Newshub sport presenter and reporter.

Andrew Gourdie: Are you prepared for Rugby World Cup heartbreak?
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