All Blacks' dominance threatens the health of international rugby
Never in the history of sport has there been an international team as dominant as the All Blacks. The New Zealanders have lost only two games since winning the 2015 World Cup – an exhibition against Ireland in Chicago and the second Test against the combined might of the British and Irish Lions, which they played with 14 men for almost three quarters of the game after Sonny Bill Williams was red-carded.
The All Blacks’ dominance might be wonderful for rugby in New Zealand, but questions remain as to whether it is positive for Test rugby and the health of the game in other countries. This is particularly true for Australia, as the Wallabies play the Kiwis more often than any other team.
While New Zealand has been the top country in world rugby for more than 100 years, the All Blacks have not always been invincible, especially at the World Cup from 1991 to 2007 when they were regularly knocked out in the play-off stages.
The All Blacks would dominate Test rugby in between World Cups only to choke at the showpiece event, giving the likes of Australia, England and South Africa an opportunity to claim the mantle as the world’s best team.
But the All Blacks have now won the last two World Cups in 2011 and 2015 and it is not beyond the realms of possibility they will remain undefeated until they lift the Webb Ellis Cup again in Japan in 2019.
This kind of dominance is abhorred in other sports. Most professional sporting competitions have introduced drafts and/or salary caps to maintain parity among teams, seeing it as detrimental for one side to win all the time, but these sort of equalising mechanisms are not applicable to Test rugby.
If the All Blacks cannot be brought back to the field, it is up to other nations to lift their standards to try to match them. So who will challenge the All Blacks for world supremacy? It might seem like a fantastical exercise, but there are a few contenders.
Under former Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, England are certainly mobilising their forces to make a genuine assault on the World Cup in Japan, instilling the same will to win that the men in white had in 2003. Rugby supporters around the globe are salivating at the prospect of England hosting the All Blacks at Twickenham in November next year, but that is a long time to wait to see the Kiwis knocked off their pedestal.
In the meantime, the Wallabies and the Springboks look as if they have turned the corner, raising hope that a famous win against the All Blacks is not too far away. Both Australia and South Africa gave the All Blacks a run for their money in the Rugby Championship, narrowly losing epic contests in Dunedin and Cape Town respectively.
It is a little bit sad when Australian and South African supporters get excited when the Wallabies and Springboks go close against the All Blacks. Is that as good as it gets? A gallant defeat? You cannot forget that the All Blacks also inflicted record defeats on the Wallabies and the Springboks in the same competition. That’s the thing about the Kiwis, when they are on they are unbeatable and when they are off they almost always win anyway.
France, of course, are always a wildcard at the World Cup, having knocked the All Blacks out of the tournament in 1999 and 2007 and almost upsetting them in the final in Auckland in 2011. The All Blacks play France in Paris on their end of year tour. Les Bleus always step up when they play New Zealand and will be a formidable opponent.
The Wallabies will get the next crack at the All Blacks in the third Bledisloe Test in Brisbane on 21 October . With the All Blacks having already won the Bledisloe Cup for a record 15th consecutive time, the game in Brisbane is a dead rubber, but that expression is not part of the Kiwi vocabulary. The All Blacks have an insatiable hunger to win every single game they play. Until the pretenders to the throne can match that desire, they will not beat them and that will not be good for rugby.
The yawning gap between the All Blacks and the rest of the world may turn Test rugby into a great, big yawn.
The kind of dominance enjoyed by the All Blacks is abhorred in other sports. Photograph: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images