Ultimate Performers

This special series explores what makes the current rugby world champions, the All Blacks, such a winning formula.

From intense preparation and training, to promoting rugby on a global scale, Ultimate Performers gives a unique insight into the focused mindset of a champion team and the tactics they adopt to ensure a winning performance.

The rugby mind

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The story behind the All Blacks' Haka ritual

History books show that New Zealand's nail-biting 8-7 victory over France in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final was won with a try from prop Tony Woodcock and a penalty from replacement fly-half Stephen Donald. But that is only half the story.

Donald's kick did give the All Blacks some priceless breathing space and ensured that a subsequent try from France's Thierry Dusautoir - converted by Francois Trinh-Duc - would not be enough to deny the hosts a long-awaited second World Cup crown.

But in truth their victory was secured thanks to an outstanding defensive display from a physically drained, but mentally sharp, All Blacks side.

They starved their French rivals of time, space and opportunity throughout the last 33 intense and enthralling minutes until the final whistle brought joy to an entire nation.

That awe-inspiring display of mental fortitude was the manifestation of the All Blacks' dedication to making sure every aspect of their preparation was perfect. This enviable characteristic was evident long before a ball was even kicked on that memorable night at Eden Park in Auckland. Read more

Wingers don't wing it

All Blacks with trophy

Former England head coach Sir Clive Woodward provides expert insight into how to get the most out of a winning rugby team.

Winning is not rocket science, according to Sir Clive Woodward. "Sheer hard work is everything," he insists - and he should know.

The former England head coach rewrote the manual in his quest for Rugby World Cup glory, which was finally achieved when his side lifted the sport's biggest prize in 2003.

Woodward challenged the traditional dominance of the southern hemisphere nations. "The key question was whether we could get 80,000 fans at Twickenham on their feet going nuts about the way we were playing."

The answer required innovation both on and off the field and at the heart of it all was player welfare. Read more

Rugby's global expansion

Rugby Fans watch the All Blacks play Argentina
Rugby Fans watch the All Blacks play Argentina

"This move is more than just a name change. It is a mission statement," declared World Rugby chairman Bernard Lapasset last year as he unveiled the governing body's new name and outlined its quest to make the sport a truly global phenomenon.

The name change, from the International Rugby Board, was prompted by the growth in player numbers around the world, expansion in new countries and the game's eagerly awaited return to the Olympics in 2016.

But the sport is booming not only in new territories; there is also a rugby renaissance under way in many existing rugby-playing nations. Read more

Weekend Warriors

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Watch All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden describe the preparation ahead of a game

Countless thousands of grassroots rugby players all over the world strive to emulate their heroes every weekend.

Often dubbed the Weekend Warriors, they're forever picking themselves up, dusting themselves down and getting back into the muddy fray. The benchmark by which they all judge themselves is New Zealand's legendary national team.

The All Blacks have such incredible motivational powers that they offer encouragement and lessons in good practice to players at all levels - including those humble Weekend Warriors who grace pitches across the rugby globe. Read more

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