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Okay, so the All Blacks have just lost at home.
For the first time against a single Test nation in nine years. As a rabid AB fan, how do I feel about that?
An hour after the final whistle of that epic Bok belter, I was strangely sanguine. My dog passed away a couple of years ago but had Jack still been around he would have been safe from a flailing boot tonight (a metaphorical flailing boot, I detest all cruelty to animals).
I find it interesting how my emotional reaction to All Black losses has changed in this current, so called ‘golden era’ when they hardly ever lose.
Since their advent, New Zealand’s national rugby team have always won far more than they’ve lost. Stretching back to the early 1900s they have been a footballing phenomenon of consistent success, winning close to 80 per cent of Test matches played over that vast expanse of time.
In the last decade and a half that winning percentage has ratcheted up to the mid-80s under Graham Henry (2004 to 2011) while Shag Hansen’s current era has nudged it into the 90s. Making even bigger winners out of the world’s winningest sporting team.
Pretty much since that debacle against France in Cardiff at the 2007 World Cup, we AB fans have been spoilt rotten, handed a near endless stream of All Black success on a gilt-edged platter. We’ve had the bragging rights that we cherish so dearly over Wallaby fans even longer – since the Bledisloe Cup last resided outside of NZ in 2002.
Meaning we can boast on Facebook and Twitter how no Aussie has ever boasted on Facebook and Twitter about a Bledisloe Cup win – because social media was nowhere near invented when the Wallabies last had it.
And it’s not just the wins, it’s the manner in which the ABs achieve them that makes us fans the luckiest in the world. Playing brilliant, often breath-taking total rugby. A brilliance borne of an impeccable attention to detail of all the boring, grinding bits to wear teams down and then strike where they are vulnerable via game breakers all over the park.
But I’m old enough to remember the lean times. Like the five consecutive World Cups without binging home Bill. Like the periods of Wallaby dominance in the early 90s and late 90s to early 2000s. When defeats to the Boks were more or less as regular as wins.
Like getting beaten by France twice in a two-match series at home in ’94. Like losing to the Poms, despite being them reduced to only 6 forwards, in a Wellington test before the ’03 World Cup.
Every one of those losses like a dagger through the heart. A blight on my very reason for being.
Maybe it was because contests in those days were nowhere near the inevitable march to success that they are now, that I felt them so much more keenly. With edge of my seat, clammy hand, palpitating heart anxiety.
The rampant, prolonged AB success of recent years has served to dull that somewhat.
And so it was that after the ABs had skipped to a 12-0 lead in the opening minutes of Saturday’s test, I was, with laughable smugness, actually fearful that last year’s 57-0 drubbing of the Boks in the corresponding fixture, would be eclipsed.
With those fears put to rest, I was still not at all worried at half time after wing Aphiwe Dyantyi, fullback Willie le Roux and hooker Malcolm Marx had replied with three converted tries and Handre Pollard had booted a penalty after the hooter to head the Boks into the sheds 24-17 up.
After all, Rieko Ioane had just scored one of his regulation freakish tries out wide two minutes from the break.
First halves are just for this All Black machine to work through the gears. Second halves are for them to kick into overdrive and blow teams off the park. Beginning with a try not long into the second 40.
So what about when that try was instead scored two minutes in by fresh Springbok sub Cheslin Kolbe who gleefully accepted an intercept from Anton Lienert-Brown’s never on pass to take the lead out to 31-17? Nah, still not bovvered.
All that was going to do was make the inevitable AB rampage home a lot more interesting than it normally is.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Boks were putting in one of the biggest defensive shifts of all time. And that the All Blacks were looking weirdly flustered and un-All Black-like at crucial moments.
Then Reiko was over again after some sustained All Black pressure. Resumption of normality, although belated, now well on its way. But not just yet. The Boks took another veer off the script with Dyantyi’s second five-pointer.
Then ill-discipline from the Boks led to Codie Taylor crashing over from a lineout drive. Just bang it over Beaudy and we’re within a converted try. Oh, you’ve managed to hit the posts. Again. Not to matter. Le Roux’s just been sent to the bin with 13 to go.
Referee Nigel Owens is blowing the Boks off the park. Ahh, Ardie Savea’s just scored to take us to within two points. With the kick to come. Beaudy to tie it all up. Oh, just right of the posts. Not to matter.
Five minutes to go. Boks, you’ve been brilliant, taking us to the wire but we’re camped in your 22m. If we don’t score a try we might have to bang over a droppie. No worries. Two minutes into injury time, AB ball, midfield scrum, five metres from the Boks line, surely…Macca catch it and score the try.
Oh, you dropped it. Bok ball. Ball in the stands. Game over.
And there I sat, staring at the final score. The All Blacks still in deficit. Hulking Springbok forwards, embracing, crying. The whole team and no doubt their country, overwhelmed by the enormous effort they put in. Something like 220 tackles to the All Blacks’ 40-odd. That’s heroic and verging on superhuman.
And there I was. Stung? Yes. Miffed? Absolutely. I mean Jordie, what the bloody hell were you thinking with that quick throw in to nobody? Did you read that Chris Rattue called you boring during the week and were compensating?
Beaudy, do you not practise goal kicking anymore, let alone drop goals? Anton, you don’t always have to make something out of nothing. Hard lessons to be learned all over the shop.
But I was also utterly exhilarated having just watched one of the great Test matches of the modern era. I was sitting on the cliched edge of my seat. Clammy hands, beating heart…and I was genuinely touched by the depth of emotion engulfing the victors.
The All Blacks’ greatest foe through the ages, an immensely proud rugby nation, restoring pride after a lean trot.
I had feelings of genuine warmth towards these brutes who had just beaten my All Blacks.
Is that the level to which I had been spoilt by these men in Black?
Maybe it is. Or maybe I’m just getting soft in my old age.
Whatever it is though, I’m absolutely convinced these feelings will not be replicated if the ABs lose again any time soon.