The most celebrated team in international Rugby Union has not won a World Cup since 1987.
The All Blacks have the chance to atone for that when they host the tournament in September and October.
It could be their last opportunity, if stomach-churning news out of New Zealand on Thursday is anything to go by.
A new rule in children’s rugby aimed at preventing “blowouts” will cap the maximum score at 35-0.
If one team leads by more than 35 points, coaches are encouraged to discuss how to create a more even match.
You can see those half-time team talks going down in legend. Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday – eat your heart out.
So in a nation boasting 40 million sheep, the poor little rugby lambs will be wrapped up softly in cotton wool if a nasty better team starts beating them up.
This fluffy sentiment is consummately unfair on the kids involved. I would bet my bottom NZ dollar that the last thing any youngster wants is to have his hand held on the rugby pitch.
The New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) believes the rule will stop under-13s from giving up the sport if their team is on the end of a thrashing.
For a game that demands character, mental and physical toughness and stamina more than most other sports, this is frankly astonishing.
In fact, it goes against the whole ethos of competitive sport and waters down its benefits to human development.
The children and teenagers of New Zealand have been grossly insulted by those running Rugby Union in the country.
In making the blowout rule, you’re saying that kids who are losing are not competitive.
You’re taking away the chance for a young player to look at the scoreboard, see no chance of victory, and still give everything for the team until the final whistle.
You’re removing pride. You’re saying it’s not ok to try your best and get badly beaten. It is.
You’re saying it’s not ok to feel bad, or to feel humiliated. It is. Those moments make you reach inside yourself and pull out something better. They make you get over it.
And let’s not forget the winners. “I get the reward for my talent and my hard work in training, and then I have to stop? Excuse me?”
This rule teaches people that they don’t have to overcome adversity. Someone else will do it for them. Maybe the term “handoff” in Kiwi rugby will soon come to mean giving the ball to the other side so that you don’t hurt their feelings.
For anyone who wants to see a decent New Zealand team in future, it’s a horrifying prospect.
The All Blacks are the best side on the planet on their day, but a World Cup-less 24 years has obviously seen them fail to bounce back from behind on more than one occasion (although they are happy enough to mercilessly batter the lesser teams, and good on them for it. It’s the only way they’ll learn).
Former captain Wayne Shelford, who won the first Rugby World Cup on home soil in ’87, called the blowout rule “social engineering” in Thursday’s New Zealand Herald.
“It’s social engineering people not to be hurt by scorelines, not to be hurt by losing,” Shelford said.
“You go out there and try and play as hard as you can. It is all about winning, obviously, but at the same time winning makes you humble and so does losing.
“I don’t think you are going to lose many players by being thrashed like that. I guess they would get a bit despondent, but at the same what are they there for?”
The 2003 world champions, England, were hammered 36-0 by South Africa in their opening match at the last Rugby World Cup.
A fairly poor, one-dimensional England then picked themselves up, ground out results, and faced the Springboks again in a final that they could have won, had endless replays not shown that a Mark Cueto try was a millimetre out of play.
Marc Ellis scored six tries as New Zealand beat Japan 145-17 at RWC 1995.
The last time I looked, Japan were still a decent outfit. Their sevens players are Asian champions. And the sport is growing in Asia, both in spite of and because of such defeats.
Ellis said of the new rule: “That’s the kind of weak-wristed thinking that’s the bane of New Zealand society… it’s protecting people from themselves – it’s protecting them from realities they need to find out.”
He is right to widen it to society as a whole. For the future of the All Blacks, this hopefully short-lived rule should be viewed with horror.
But the mollycoddling trend in which feelings are spared, criticism is banned, bad exam results are beefed up or hidden, and in which people are given no chance to take a long, hard look at themselves sucks the joy out of life as it draws the sting from defeat.