New Zealand consistently dominates world rugby year after year. They tie the record for most world cup wins (3) and have won the tri nations/rugby championship 17 times. In the professional era of rugby their winning percentage is 84. How does a country with just over 4 million dominate other rugby powerhouses such as South Africa, England, Australia and Ireland?
Why is New Zealand so good at rugby?
New Zealand is so good at rugby because it is their national sport with high participation rates (150,000 registered players). They also have access to the best players from neighboring Pacific Island countries. And have strong coaching and developmental systems.
New Zealand Rugby Has A Lot Of Players
One of the best predictors of a country’s athletic success is participation rate. To produce world class athletes you need a deep talent pool as most players are not going to have the genetic potential or the desire to undergo intense training for years.
The higher number of players a country has for a particular sport the more likely they are to possess outliers who are both naturally amazing athletes and have the ability to learn and master their particular sport.
While New Zealand may only be a small country with a population of less than 5 million they have a lot of rugby players. Currently they have almost 150,000 registered players this puts them above countries like England, Australia and Ireland. Only France and South Africa have more registered players. This is because rugby is just so popular in New Zealand that a high percentage of the population play the game.
If we estimate of those 150,000 players 5% have the athletic potential and are training hard to improve their rugby skills that means New Zealand rugby has a talent pool of 7500 which they can work with to ensure that the All Blacks continue to dominate the world rugby scene.
Rugby Is New Zealand’s National Sport
Rugby is by far the most popular sport in New Zealand. The All Blacks routinely play in front of 50,000 cheering fans while often another 1 million New Zealanders watch on the telly.
Countries typically perform well at their natural sport for a variety reasons including:
Prestige & Status – Rugby players in New Zealand are celebrities and can earn millions of dollars from salaries and endorsement deals. They are adored by a large percentage of the population and are many kids’ childhood heroes. When you can reap all of this societal benefit through playing rugby it leads to intense competition and many New Zealanders are willing to dedicate their entire lives to rugby in hope of attaining these wealth and status.
National pride – When a country attaches itself to particular sport it often will go out of its way to ensure they succeed. In New Zealand rugby players have access to world class facilities and the best coaches. They also benefit from the strong support of their fellow countrymen. When you are in a tough game the cheer from a home crowd can really turn the tide of a match.
Belief – Countries often have a long storied history playing their national sports. They typically have had great success over the years. New Zealand is no different they have been producing world class rugby teams since the 1800s. When you have a history of winning it is easy to continue this momentum because every time you run out onto a rugby field you fully believe you will win. This unwavering belief is like playing rugby with a strong breeze behind you.
Specialization – Sport is like business, companies that choose to focus on particular aspect or product outperform companies that try and do everything. New Zealand places a huge focus on rugby often to the detriment of its other sports. The result is New Zealand is world class in rugby not in many other sports.
New Zealand Has Access To Pacific Islander Players
If you have watched the All Blacks or other professional rugby teams in New Zealand play you will notice there are a lot of Fijian, Tongan and Samoan players in their ranks. Polynesians tend to be gifted when it comes to rugby. They often have that perfect blend of size and speed. There just seems to be a higher percentage of 100kg + athletic freaks with crazy explosiveness from that part of the world.
As New Zealand is close to Polynesian countries they have a large Islander population to draw talent from but they also head over to Fiji, Tongan and Samoa to recruit players who they offer scholarships and contracts to. As New Zealand offers much more lucrative financial rewards than the small island countries they can often recruit the very best talent from the Pacific Islands and get them to represent New Zealand.
New Zealand Has A Strong Rugby Development System
New Zealand is really known for placing a heavy emphasis on developing rugby skills. In many other countries particularly Australia and South Africa coaches are far more interested in size and often overlook smaller more skillful players in favor of big athletes. Then they compound the problem by failing to drill and develop fundamental rugby skills.
New Zealand has taken an approach which sets it about from many other rugby nations. They spend hour and hours drilling the basics even high level players will do simple passing drills all training. New Zealand rugby coaches expect their players to be able to catch and pass effortlessly in both directions over a variety of distances. It doesn’t matter if you are a front row forward or halfback coaches will insist you become a master passing.
It isn’t just passing New Zealand rugby coaches take this skill building approach with it is all aspects of rugby including tackling, mauling, cleaning out and kicking. New Zealand rugby coaches have a very strong growth mindset where they believe they can take any player and teach them world class rugby skills.
This approach is in stark contrast to other rugby powerhouses who don’t spend nearly enough time on skill development. And believe that players’ skills are set in their teens and after that it is all about physicality.