Why is New Zealand so good at rugby?

The New Zealand rugby team is one of the best and most historic teams in all of rugby. The All Blacks have been dominant across multiple years in rugby, far outsripping what should be expected from a country of their population size. There are some good reasons for this. 

Why is New Zealand so good at rugby? Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand so it gets the best athletes in the country. New Zealand also has an incredibly strong development system that makes the best out of the talent available. The long running historic success of Rugby in New Zealand means players coming through are focused and confident.

It is certainly not easy to say exactly why New Zealand are so good at rugby. It is really down to multiple reasons that we will take a look at. 

Rugby as the National Sport

One of the main reasons why New Zealand are so successful at rugby is because it is the national sport. This means that rugby is the most popular sport in New Zealand and it gets a lot of attention from the entire country. 

Rugby being the national sport means that boys and girls start playing the game from a very young age. A lot of primary school children will be playing rugby from age 5 upwards. In fact, there is a lot of Rippa Rugby, which is a non-contact version of rugby played by children as young as three years old. 

Pretty much every primary school will be playing rugby and so kids get introduced to the game very early on. Rugby is usually played in school from then onwards, with pretty much every school in the country playing rugby. This makes it more likely that these players will stick with the sport. 

Getting these kids introduced to rugby means it is more likely that they will play the sport at a high level, giving New Zealand a large and talented player base to choose from when they are creating the All Blacks squad. 

National Pride

This point is slightly similar to the fact that New Zealand’s national sport is rugby. New Zealanders have a lot of pride in their rugby team. This means that as a country, they are desperate to succeed. You don’t really want to be bad at the game that is your national sport. 

Kids are more likely to commit to playing rugby at a young age when they see how special it is to play for New Zealand. Part of that is also because New Zealand has a huge amount of pride in its rugby team as the team has been the most successful international team in rugby. 

The All Blacks have won three World Cups, including lifting the trophy in New Zealand in 2011. New Zealand has a positive win record against every country that they have faced as well as 19 Rugby Championship titles. They are the best international team in rugby and so it gives young players something to aspire to. 

In terms of national pride, it helps that young rugby players have some legends to look up to. Much of the New Zealand team of the last ten years will have been inspired to play for the All Blacks thanks to Jonah Lomu, one of the greatest players in rugby history. 

Younger players will have been able to look at the brilliant performances of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw as inspiration for what they can try to replicate. It is incredibly difficult to reach the level of the guys mentioned, but it gives youngsters the role models to look up to and encourages them to play more rugby. 

Great academies and rugby schools

While it is great for New Zealand to get so many people playing rugby from a young age, the skills these young kids are learning needs to be developed to allow them to become the superstar players that are in the All Blacks team. 

One of the reasons why New Zealand is so good at rugby is because they put a lot of focus on the skills of the game instead of focusing solely on size and speed. New Zealand has some of the fastest and most skilful players in the world and this is because these skills are developed from a young age. 

New Zealand rugby coaches are able to develop the passing, tackling and kicking skills of the players, all skills which is what makes the All Blacks team so good. These skills are developed in some of the best rugby schools in the world. 

Rugby is such a big sport in New Zealand that often kids will go to specific schools just for rugby. The country creates the best environment for kids to get better by putting the best rugby schools against the best rugby schools, bringing the intensity into the game from very early on. 

Iron sharpens iron, so these schools playing against each other only makes the players better. 

Access to Pacific Island talent

One of the slightly controversial elements of the All Black’s success is the influence of the pacific islands like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa. New Zealand and Australia have often had All Blacks who were born on one of the Pacific Islands. 

A lot of the time, these players will be scouted from a very young age and will be invited to play for a New Zealand school on a scholarship. It is something that New Zealand private schools have been doing for a long time and is something that is not exclusive to New Zealand. 

But the geographical element means that New Zealand often looks to poach talent from the Pacific Islands, with the Pacific Islands often producing some brilliant rugby talent, whose skills can be sharpened and improved after they move to New Zealand. It is something we see in the New Zealand squad today. 

Samisoni Taukei’aho grew up in Tonga and played rugby from a young age. But on an u15s tour to New Zealand, Taukei’aho was offered an international scholarship by St Paul’s College. Taukei’aho took the scholarship and made his All Blacks debut in 2021 as he was able to play for New Zealand through residency. Guys like Nepo Laulala, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Leicester Fainga’anuku were all born outside of New Zealand. 

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