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This time?

Everything's pointing to the All Blacks winning Rugby World Cup 2011.

A year to go to Rugby World Cup 2011 and it's frightfully familiar for the All Blacks. As usual in a pre-World Cup year, they're so far ahead of their opponents it could seem futile to even bother staging the 2011 event.

If the All Blacks win the tournament, as they ought to on form, it would do no more than confirm what everyone already knows; if they lose, a country with an inferior recent record would be crowned world champions. Something doesn't quite stack up.

This is why World Cup events are flawed. They don't regularly reward the world's best team but rather the one that peaks within a confined period. Such is often the case with football's World Cup: Brazil, typically the No 1-ranked nation, do not prevail as often as they might, despite their class and heritage.

Ditto the All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup. Since they won the first one in 1987, they've been hyped to the max to win every time, but have made the final only once - losing to South Africa 15-12 in extra time in 1995.

It shouldn't happen but it does. Between now and the tournament, there will be much analysis of the apparent mental block or fragility the All Blacks have when the World Cup comes into view.

But if such imponderables are put aside, the evidence after the opening games in the 2010 Tri Nations is overwhelming - the All Blacks must and will win the title this time. Forgetting the rather trivial lead-up matches against Ireland and Wales, they put together a sequence of compelling displays in dismissing reigning world champions South Africa twice in New Zealand (31-17 and 32-12) before pummelling the Wallabies 49-28 in Melbourne. Their ability and intensity have had an irresistible quality as they essentially annihilated their most serious opponents. Perhaps France will again warrant consideration by next year but none of the other major European nations is able to mount a case for ­consideration at the moment.

So, if the Springboks and the Wallabies are the only genuine threats at this stage, their lack of success against the All Blacks recently must have them despairing. Indeed, the Australians' loss in Melbourne was their eighth in a row against the All Blacks, and they've won just one since Rugby World Cup 2007.

The South Africans may point to their three straight wins over the All Blacks last year, and their two wins on New Zealand soil in the past few years, but the landscape has changed markedly since. Most significantly, the All Blacks have taken their game to another stratosphere, while the Springboks are flailing about trying to stay in touch through their old-school approach.

Unfortunately, there have been so many train wrecks over the years that would normally prevent any smugness about the All Blacks' chances. However, they're functioning in a superior manner now, and standing out as seemingly certain 2011 world champions. They're being expertly coached, and now that they are at last fielding their strongest combination on a match-to-match basis, fans and players are feeling more confident.

Of course, it might all be so different this time next year ...