No, the All Blacks’ domination is not bad for rugby

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By , Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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    Back in August, Sean Fitzpatrick said, “The All Blacks don’t have a point to prove” and he was right.

    While the BILs series was disappointing from a New Zealand perspective, and obviously didn’t have the result most of us wanted (or indeed thought was possible), it was a challenge that the All Blacks would have relished.

    I believe it’s a result that will help prepare the team more for the endgame (the Rugby World Cup) than a successful series would have.

    The ABs dominance has long been discussed, and has recently become a hot topic again due to an article in The Guardian by Bret Harris. In the habit that has seemingly become the norm for news media, the article has unfortunately been paired with a headline that isn’t really reflective of the words within.

    Harris did not once mention that the All Blacks dominance is threatening “the health of international rugby” but merely asks whether said dominance is good for international rugby.

    He admits, “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”. He discusses the back-to-back Rugby World Cups and the fact the All Blacks have only lost two games since winning the cup in 2015, but suggests it’s up to other nations to match NZ’s standard.

    I completely agree with this sentiment. Do people expect the All Blacks to lose a few games to help the others equalise their success? This is totally incongruous with the team’s philosophy of ‘leaving the jersey in a better place’. If the All Blacks are the “standard-bearers of world rugby”, then the onus is on the others to catch up.

    Brodie Retallick New Zealand Rugby Union All Blacks 2017 tall

    (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

    However, what I disagree with in the article is Harris’ prediction of what he describes as the “yawning gap” between New Zealand and the rest of the world turning “Test rugby into a great, big yawn”. I just don’t think that’s true, and I think it dismisses the achievements other teams have made, or are in the process of making.

    Since Eddie Jones has been head coach, England has made incredible strides since their 2015 Rugby World Cup exit, and is a real contender to lift the Rugby World Cup in Japan. And after the horror of 2016, the Springbok have also made huge strides. And as for Australia, well, after their start to the 2017 Rugby Championship, who would’ve thought they’d end up in second place. And yes, I realise there’s a huge gap between first and second place in the standings, but that’s beside the point. The point is, they improved.

    The ABs aren’t indomitable. They have good days and bad days like any other team. According to Fitzpatrick, “The reality is that every team that challenges the All Blacks plays the game of their lives and, 99 per cent of the time, New Zealand still win”.

    However, while it might be true to say that even on a bad day they can beat most other teams, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to see this as a given. There will always be games in which they are pushed to the max; the recent Tests in Dunedin and Cape Town prove that. But these are the games that are needed to ensure the All Blacks stay where they are.

    On the two rugby FB groups I’m a member of, people have been lamenting the state of rugby in Australia and South Africa of late, and not just for self-serving purposes. We’re all well aware of the importance of strong Wallabies and Springbok teams; when they’re strong, we’re strong. But there’s also a yearning to return to the competitive matches of the past. And that’s what I found particularly satisfying about the Cape Town game.

    It reminded me of a former game – a game that could’ve gone either way and had me screaming at Sopoaga to kick the “damn ball” out in the 80th minute to avoid a repeat of the first half. After the Dunedin and Cape Town Tests, the comments on those two groups were lauding the improvements made, while hoping that it’s a sign for things to come, the advent of a new era.

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I hate it when the All Blacks lose, but I also see that there are benefits in losing. Whether it’s complacency that’s the cause of a loss, or the absence of pivotal players, none of that matters in the big picture. The history books aren’t concerned with why it was a loss, all they do is reflect the result. As someone who would know, Fitzpatrick asserts that “The All Blacks remember their losses more than their wins”. And as an armchair enthusiast, I know I certainly do!

    Graham Henry rightly believes that “nobody has got the prerogative to be the best in the world forever, and nobody can guarantee continued success”. His opinion is that the gap between the All Blacks and their contenders is narrowing: “I don’t think the gap is too big, which is what rugby needs. It doesn’t need one side that’s unbeatable, because that’s boring”.

    Brian Lochure shares that opinion: “the other rugby nations are catching up and the All Blacks current dominance cannot be taken for granted”.

    While all this talk about catching up is all very well and good, and I for one welcome it, surely what we should be hoping for is consistency.

    What’s the point in one-off success against the All Blacks? Does that really do anything to help global rugby? As previously stated, the All Blacks lose games – not many, but they do lose. However, where they stand out from the rest, is that this has never been the norm, and usually a loss results in a very strong response the next time the teams meet.

    Looking at Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship history, in 1998 the All Blacks had their worst ever year, losing all four games. From 1996 to 2011 New Zealand lost 22 Tri-Nation games. and from 2012 to 2017, they lost two Rugby Championship games. So the All Blacks do lose. But the thing that makes the All Blacks a formidable foe is their consistency.

    The All Blacks are the most successful sports team in history, “achieving a better win ratio than Brazil in football or Australia in cricket”. For Brian Lochore, it’s the centralized system that has put New Zealand in the position we’re in. NZR controls everything at all levels “which enables it to prioritize the success of the national team above all else”.

    In New Zealand the All Blacks come first. NZR have made a commitment to the national team and everything feeds into that. Perhaps this is what other countries need to do in order to close the gap. Perhaps, if WR are seriously wanting to close the gap, more needs to be done in order to protect the national teams. Should centralised systems be the norm? I don’t see why it would work for us and not other countries. Ask yourself this… who do you support? I support the All Blacks, Hurricanes, and Tasman… in that order. Do you rate a club team before that of your national team? If so, is this part of the problem?

    Michael Lynagh suggests that the only business where a monopoly isn’t a good thing is sport but that “the All Blacks are in danger of heading in that direction”. But instead of putting the All Blacks at the heart of the issue, maybe the rhetoric should be reversed.

    So I suggest, to avoid a monopoly in world rugby, unions have to start putting their national teams first and providing a platform for their own players/coaches to get up to speed.

    The Ashes are here! After all the build-up, follow all the first Test action between Australia and England with our Ashes live scores and blog.