The past can tell us a lot about the future for those can be bothered to study the deeds of other days. As the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana).
Almost everyone is trying to come up with some prescient reason why a particular country will win the Rugby World Cup, and why.
Such predictions are fraught with danger since it is really impossible this far out to predict with any certainty how things will pan out.
But the past can give us the clues, morsels of insight which we must decipher correctly in the present time. Here are some potential clues that I remember involving just the Wallabies and All Blacks.
1991 Bledisloe Cups
The All Blacks surprisingly lost to the Wallabies 12-21 in Sydney, then scraped home 6-3 in the muck of Auckland. Coach Alex Wyllie heaved a huge sigh of relief from the win, but appeared insufficiently motivated to learn any lessons from it.
The Sydney result was viewed as a ‘blip’ and the good ship New Zealand would continue on its intended course. The Wallabies, on the other hand, were furious to have let a game go they expected to win. They studied and learnt their lessons.
In the World Cup semi-final, the Wallabies shut out the All Blacks 16-6.
1994 Bledisloe Cup (Gregan’s tackle Test)
It is necessary to view this Test in two halves because each team took from it their half of domination for future consideration.
At half-time Australia led 17-6, having allowed two late penalties to the All Blacks. They had controlled the game well and defused anything the All Blacks had tried to start.
The second half was entirely different. The All Blacks threw the ball around, finding gaps all over the place. Trailing 16-20 in the last movement of the match, Jeff Wilson was just about to make the winning score for New Zealand, when George Gregan dislodged the ball from his grasp.
The Wallabies accepted the win, with coach Bob Dwyer following the same line of thinking as Wyllie, that the second half had been a ‘blip’.
The All Blacks, on the other hand, had seen the Wallabies soft underbelly exposed, and proceeded to plan how they would play the game the following year at the World Cup.
I can’t remember the journalist, it might have been the acerbic Evan Whitton, who observed drily, “Next year we should find out which half told the real story – the first half of the Wallabies, or the second half of the All Blacks”.
Or something like that. At the 1995 World Cup, the All Blacks spectacularly swept all before bar the final, losing a tryless match in extra-time to the Boks.
2003 Bledisloe Cups
In the first encounter of 2003, the All Blacks steamrolled the Wallabies 50-21, throwing the Australian World Cup plans into despair. In the return match, the All Blacks had to call on all their resolve to hold out the fast-finishing Wallabies 21-17.
The relief on the faces of the All Blacks was palpable. But coach John Mitchell at the time was enormously arrogant, and dismissed the Wallabies fight-back as an aberration.
Had Mitchell paid more attention to this match, his team may not have been blind-sided in the semi-final, won sensationally and unexpectedly by the Wallabies 22-10.
There are plenty of other examples, like 2011, but this should do for the moment. From the beginning of this year, each Test between leading contenders has told a story.
It is the problem for the amateur sleuth to figure which of these little stories are most relevant.
What will a double win for the Wallabies next weekend mean for them, and the All Blacks? Will this mean the Wallabies are on track, or ahead of schedule, and can relax?
Human nature can be so insouciant and contradictory. The problem for coach Michael Cheika will be keeping his players on course.
And what will a win for the All Blacks mean, since a majority of Kiwi and Aussie fans expect them to level the Bledisloe Cup? Will coach Steve Hansen and his team heave a sigh of relief?
Most importantly of all, which team will learn the most from these double encounters, and heed its lessons, making the necessary adjustments in personnel, strategy and tactics leading into the 2015 Rugby World Cup.