• The All Blacks Aren’t Done Yet

    The All Blacks may have retained the Bledisloe Cup, won the Rugby Championship with a game to spare, and beaten both the Wallabies and the Pumas twice in a row, but their single loss to the Springboks and their dramatic last-minute, come-from-behind win in the second match against the Boks has, predictably enough, sparked speculation in the northern hemisphere rugby press that the end of the All Blacks’ dominance of world rugby is now in sight. And even their narrow win over the Boks, according to the critics, was achieved only because they scored more points!

    As Steve Hansen remarked, there is no shortage of those who want to see the All Blacks fall from the top of the tree. But those of us who have followed the All Blacks for a lifetime and who can therefore take a longer view might advise that any celebration of the All Blacks’ impending demise is premature.

    I was brought up to celebrate All Black victories, and those victories have come with impressive regularity over a period of more than 110 years. But that should not obscure the fact that over that long period of pre-eminence, spanning virtually the whole of the history of modern rugby, there have been peaks but, comparatively speaking, troughs as well, from all of which the All Blacks have aways re-asserted themselves as the world’s leading and most successful team.

    Inevitably, it is the troughs that make the greater impact and that stick in the memory. My first recollection of test rugby is of 1949, when a brilliant All Blacks team toured South Africa and lost the series 4-0, courtesy of a Springbok forward called Okey Geffin who took advantage of some home-town refereeing and kicked goals from all parts of the park.

    The Springboks visited New Zealand in 1956 and I recall sleeping out on the Wellington pavement to get tickets for the second test. The All Blacks lost that test but won the series 3-1. Proper order was restored.

    Despite the current fancy that the Wallabies are our major rivals, I have alway believed that it is the Springboks who are our most dangerous challengers – a view borne out by their beating us in the 1995 World Cup final, and by years such as 2009 when they beat us three times in a row.

    It is worth making the point that these reverses did little to change the overwhelming reality that the All Blacks remained for virtually the whole of the period the world’s pre-eminent team. Neither our occasional and painful losses to the Springboks and our even more infrequent defeats by other teams like Ireland – in Chicago, on a rare occasion when the All Black management took a match too lightly and paid the price – did anything to dent the All Blacks’ record of superiority.

    However good the All Blacks are, however, international rugby is, as it should be, highly competitive and the slightest stumble from their high standards by the All Blacks can mean defeat. That is why each All Blacks victory is worth so much and is so much to be celebrated. These victories are hard-won and their regularity is testament to the immensely high standards achieved by the team, decade after decade.

    Is there really any sign that the All Blacks’ dominance is about to end? I think not. Yes, there are challenges, not so much on as off the field, where the lure of high salaries paid in the northern hemisphere could mean a haemorrhage of top players from the New Zealand game.

    But the New Zealand conveyor belt that delivers new and talented players to the game every year, the structure of the game and the prestige of the All Blacks, and the fact that we have the best coaches and thinkers in the game all continue to function and to keep us ahead of the pack.

    Let our rivals and critics take what comfort they can from our occasional reverse. The history of the past 110 years should give us the confidence to believe that the strengths and virtues of All Blacks rugby will endure. Our opponents should concentrate on trying to catch up. The time for them to celebrate will be when, and if, they do.

    Bryan Gould
    9 October 2018