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Opinion

Here’s a great idea: Let’s stop playing the All Blacks

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Expert
22nd November, 2019
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29493 Reads

Yes, you heard me right: let’s stop playing the All Blacks.

Over the last 17 years, it has been made abundantly clear that the Kiwis are far better at rugby union than us Australians. It has become embarrassing.

We are now at our lowest competitive ebb. Following the quarter-final loss which ended our Rugby World Cup, we slipped behind Japan to be seventh in the rugby world rankings.

I’ll repeat that: the Brave Blossoms were ranked ahead of the Wallabies.

We need to regroup and rebuild the game at all levels. We need to lick our wounds and salvage what we can from the wreckage.

Given that state of affairs, the next couple of years are really not the time to play New Zealand.

Our quarter-final capitulation to England highlighted clearly where the Wallabies are at: miles off the mark. The chances are high indeed that the next time we play the Kiwis – especially with them hurting from their own semi-final exit – that we will cop a flogging.

There is a great risk that people will try and scapegoat outgoing coach Michael Cheika for all Australia’s woes. It is sorely tempting to apportion all of the blame to someone and hope that a change in head coach to Dave Rennie will precipitate a phoenix-like rise.

But it won’t. There is no quick fix.

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Michael Cheika

It wasn’t all Cheika’s fault. (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The various bodies in charge of running, nurturing and growing rugby union in this country must now come together – just like those responsible for cricket did in the 1980s during a similar malaise – and put a complete long-term plan in place to get us back on track. It’ll take a while and will require patience, dedication and effort.

While that is happening, we must not play the All Blacks.

While it absolutely irks us to our core that we could be so consistently bested by our little brother at something, there is no question that we have been.

We’ve been routinely whipped, flogged, thrashed, destroyed and humiliated.

And don’t come at me with the surprise 47-26 win in August this year being evidence that our rebirth as a serious rugby nation is imminent. That was a classic example of monkeys and typewriters, mixed with Kiwi complacency.

Once stung, the All Blacks responded by thrashing the Wallabies 36-0, the fifth time the Kiwis have inflicted a doughnut on us. We’ve never held them scoreless. Not once.

I personally have had a gutful.

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I am so sick of losing to the All Blacks. The worst thing of all though is that I’ve started to meet many Kiwis who openly pity us.

That is just too much. That is the line.

But why wouldn’t they pity us? All evidence points to our Wallabies being little more than a yearly ritual sacrifice for the entertainment of our neighbours across the ditch.

Nic White and the Australian scrum

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

We know it’s coming yet every damn year we suit up our gold-clad light brigade and throw them once more into the valley of death.

“Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die…”

Into the valley of death ride the Wallabies. Whitelock to the right of them, Retallick to left of them, Barretts in front of them.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, then playing the All Blacks is clearly insanity. We aren’t even in the hunt.

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Former World Cup winner Israel Dagg said as much on Sky Sport New Zealand in the aftermath of the Wallabies’ loss to England.

“The All Blacks need [the Wallabies] to be good. We need them to perform. Remember how it was? The Bledisloe Cup is huge and we need them to be good, as good as they were: a team to be feared. Not too good, but we need them to be competitive.”

The Kiwis don’t even see us as competitive…

And why would they?

The last time we won the Bledisloe Cup was in 2002. We have lost 17 series straight. There are legal adults out there – people who can drink and vote – who have no memory of an Australian lifting that massive piece of silverware because they were still in nappies when it last happened. The iPhone wasn’t around the last time it happened. The Nokia 3310 ruled the mobile market.

Back in 2002, we had just won the trophy for the fifth straight time and the overall series tally was only in the Kiwis’ favour 30-12 – a mere 18 series difference. That deficit now stands at 35.

Bledisloe Cup

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

In those last 17 seasons there have been 47 games played between our nations. New Zealand have won 37 to Australia’s eight, with two draws. The All Blacks have won 78.7 per cent of the games.

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And there haven’t been a lot of close losses either. Not by a long stretch.

The All Blacks have won the games by an average of 29 to 18. That’s an 11-point average margin.

Lots of it has been because they’ve strangled the Wallabies attack. Eleven times since the start of 2003 they’ve held our boys in gold to ten points or fewer. Two times they’ve held us scoreless. The Wallabies have only scored more than 30 points against the All Blacks four times during that period.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks have scored more freely than Leonardo DiCaprio did in The Wolf Of Wall Street. Australia have not once held them to ten or fewer points in a game. In 22 of the 47 meetings, they’ve conceded 30 points or more.

It just isn’t a contest and it hasn’t been for a long time.

The best way forward right now is to call off the fight. To throw in the towel.

That is not as crazy as it sounds either. It is an idea that works well in practice.

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The boycotting concept has its mirror in the Waratah Shield. The competition started in 1963 and was open to all schools from NSW and the ACT. In 1984 St Edmunds College Canberra – led by a young Ricky Stuart – won their first Waratah Shield.

Over 21 years, St Eddies won it 14 times and Canberra’s Marist College – featuring Joe Roff – won three times. The schools from the ACT won 81 per cent of the titles from 1984 to 2004. At that point, those who ran the competition decided to kick the ACT schools – that had produced such players as Stuart, David Furner, George Gregan, Roff, Matt Henjack and Matt Giteau – out completely.

That’s right: they didn’t try to help the others reach the high standards set by the ACT schools, they chose to lower the bar.

And they were totally vindicated in doing so. They achieved their short-term goals: New South Wales-based schools won the Waratah Shield and neither St Eddies nor Marist have won a single Waratah Shield since.

That the exclusion of this prime rugby nursery occurred in 2004 – near the start of the Wallabies’ decline and current horror run against the All Blacks – is probably just coincidental.

All the best generals know that you want to choose your field of battle carefully. It is just common sense. In the Pacific Theatre during World War II, General Macarthur’s successful strategy was to deliberately avoid the enemy’s major strong points. It worked very well.

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So let’s follow that successful model and stop playing the All Blacks. We can’t lose to them if we don’t play them.

Let’s play Samoa, Tonga, Italy and Japan instead. It is the only success we are likely to have over the Kiwis at rugby right now – there is nothing we could do that would scare them more.

Ray Niuia of Samoa runs the ball

Samoa: a better rugby foe? (Photo by Jason McCawley/Getty Images)

Of course I’m not talking about boycotting them completely, just not playing them so regularly. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Bledisloe became a yearly event. Make it like a British and Irish Lions tour, World Cup or Olympics where it only happens quadrennially.

This would lessen the incidence of ritual humiliation, as well as buy us time to lick our wounds and rebuild.

Let’s play New Zealand at cricket, basketball, swimming, athletics, soccer and baseball. Just to be kind we can throw in netball and rugby league as well. But let’s not be so stupid as to continually play to their strengths.

You know it makes sense.

You know it does.

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