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England is nice but the Springboks will be a true test of the All Blacks' mettle

Captain Scott Barrett (C) along with vice captains Ardie Savea (L) and Jordie Barrett (R) look on during the New Zealand All Blacks 2024 season launch at NZCIS on June 26, 2024 in Upper Hutt, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

It’ll be September before we know a thing about this All Blacks team.

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Look, we probably underestimated Ireland this time two years ago and are at risk of doing the same with England this time around.

But I just don’t see this England team throwing up a huge challenge in the next couple of weeks, nor Fiji or Argentina.

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It’s not until the All Blacks meet the Springboks in South Africa in September that we’ll be able to judge if this coaching group and players are any better than what we’ve since the team began a steady decline in 2017.

I look at the team picked to play England in Dunedin on Saturday and it’s okay.

The tight five is good and the loose forwards useful.

But when I see the names of those picked in the backline, I wonder if they have the accuracy and consistency to stave off legitimate opposition.

I try not to pick on individuals. It’s kind of mean and certainly doesn’t endear you to anyone.

It’s easier to make statements about the collective than to say so and so isn’t up to it.

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My disappointment, in this instance, is we’re not going to learn whether they are or not during the next two months of footy.

Let’s assume they beat England handily. We all know how that’s going to be greeted.

We’ll be told about the fresh environment and ideas in the camp and how this player and that player has matured beyond belief during the Super Rugby Pacific season and is twice the footballer they were before.

It’ll be ‘fabulous’ this and ‘wonderful’ that, forgetting that Super Rugby and average-to-weak test opposition are no barometer of success or development.

I have a degree of sympathy for new coach Scott Robertson in that regard.

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His players are likely to be praised to absurd levels, given our collective thirst to see a return to All Blacks supremacy.

Only nothing weakens the resolve of people like praise.

I know there will be fans that say we have to treat the start of a new era with optimism.

People who believe teams deserve a honeymoon period, where we all get behind them until proven otherwise.

I actually believe this is a time for pragmatism and caution, even scepticism. A time to stay off the bandwagon at least until the Springboks are beaten in Johannesburg and Cape Town in September.

If Robertson can keep this team from getting lazy and complacent after the victories that appear to await them between now and then, I’ll be mightily impressed.

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It’s at that point, that I’ll start talking about a team that’s potentially turned a corner and which has an idea about what excellence looks like.

For now, this looks like an All Black team with some holes to fill. Particularly in the backs.

A team that hopes to do well against elite competition, but hasn’t yet got the personnel or belief to do it consistently.

We’ll get a better idea of their 2027 Rugby World Cup credentials come September.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

35 Comments
B
Bruce 15 days ago

How dismissive of an improving England team. I do hope they surprise you. They may well not but to look further ahead for sterner competition is very condescending.

F
Flankly 15 days ago

Borthwick is gradually building a non-nonsense kind of team, with a back-to-basics workmanlike style. And I am backing him to do a good job of it, over time. If they aren’t already a legitimate contender against all comers then we should expect them to get there within the next year. Don’t expect the prettiest or most elegant rugby, but don’t underestimate their potential.

FWIW I would not be surprised to see a relatively under-cooked NZ team lose to England in this series. You have to back Razor’s record in the longer run, but again it is a team in rebuild. Most of the magic emerges in teams when they have built experience as a unit. It’s when you get the roles, accuracy, timing and anticipation working that you get the results. It also helps to prove your selections and develop your squad depth.

England are one year ahead of NZ in that rebuild process. I would love to see NZ win, but it is a lot to ask right. now. NZ deserve a break as Razor gets it all working together.

As relates to NZ/SA, I expect those to be the biggest games of the 2024 season.

m
monty 16 days ago

Bidwell is just a troll.

R
Roelof 16 days ago

Well if Sir “Dumb Ass” Kirwan is to be believed then the AB should have no problem beating the Springboks in SA. Why wait until September, just pronounce the AB the best in the world and then blame everyone and everything when they lose. That is after all the NZ way.

T
Toaster 16 days ago

Wow another terrible and meaningless article from this guy!

Beat England handily?!
I’d take any win

Why not provide some analysis on the backline players you refuse to name Hamish??

L
Liam 16 days ago

“We are probably under estimating england”…. Then goes ahead and writes them off, predicting an AB easy series win, at the same time saying the backline is rubbish. How arrogant can you possibly be. Ridiculous

S
Shaun 16 days ago

As a South African, I would say, take any team thats in the top 8/7 Seriously, any of them can beat any team on the day.

S
Shaylen 16 days ago

So you have now indicated that the All Blacks should beat England and Argentina quite easily and if they do you have already played down those victories no matter what the margin or the quality of the performance. You have rated that it is impossible to discern any progress between now and September. So why even play the matches? Why even watch? Who cares, lets just wildly speculate about them until then because apparently the next 2 months are inconsequential and will be filled with praise and love for an overhyped AB’s team. Is that your point from this article? If thats the case what was the point in me even reading this?

T
Tim 16 days ago

The scribe is gonna have egg on his face if England beat NZ. There's no guarantees in rugby.

M
MattJH 16 days ago

Is Bidwell just trolling or does he actually not watch any rugby?
England were bronze medalists in the World Cup last year and changed their game up after a poor 6N start to beat Ireland (who improved massively since the 1/4 final loss) and almost beat France with some very nice running rugby.
How are they not a massive challenge for a brand new ABs
side on ten days prep?
Bidwell offers no ideas on what this weak backline of ours should look like either.
And how on earth are the Boks the yardstick? According to Bidwell, they only beat a mediocre English team and a not very good All Blacks team by 1 point each.
Can’t be very good if they only beat the weak teams by one point.

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