All Blacks' dom­i­nance threat­ens the health of in­ter­na­tional rugby

The Guardian Australia - - Sport - Bret Har­ris

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

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