'That's when you get d**ked and lose': Cost of quirky test schedule
With Covid-19 still causing havoc around the world, it came as no real surprise when the pandemic forced a change-up in the Rugby Championship schedule for 2021.
In years gone by, the likes of the All Blacks and Wallabies have rarely played either the Springboks or Pumas two weekends in a row. In 2018, New Zealand and Australia squared off over the opening two rounds of the Championship before NZ played rotating matches against Argentina and South Africa over the final four rounds.
In 2021, however, the All Blacks have played back-to-back games against the Wallabies, before playing back-to-back games against the Pumas, then finishing up with back-to-back games against the Springboks.
Factor in the two-test series with Fiji in July (while Argentina played Wales twice, the Wallabies squared off with France over three weeks, and the Springboks did the same with the touring British and Irish Lions), and preparation has perhaps been somewhat easier for the teams this year, due to not having to chop and change what they’re expecting from their opponents on a weekly basis.
It also gives players the opportunity to feel out their opposition and ensures there’s some consistency from week to week.
But, that consistency also comes with some complications.
“I think [the schedule] has different challenges,” Codie Taylor told media this week.
“We had three Aussie tests in a row and a big goal for us was to win each one of those. That comes with a different challenge in itself.”
Following a loss, the defeated side can assess where they fell short against the opponents and right those wrongs. The winners may have found the recipe for success in one match but that won’t necessarily lead to a victory in the next, which forces them to innovate while also trying to second-guess their opposition.
There’s also the possibility that boredom creeps in, with players preparing for the same opponents and the same style of play week after week.
“I think when you change teams, it’s a fresh new look on the week and it’s a new opposition so that brings something different,” Taylor said. “I’m not saying that Aussie didn’t do that but in terms of mentally preparing with your mindset, you have to nail it or else that’s when you get d**ked and lose those games.”
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions after a handful of tests this year, but there were glimpses during the two back-to-back tests on the Gold Coast that a changing of the guard may be coming. #NZLvARG #RSAvAUS #AllBlacks
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) September 13, 2021
Despite having a hugely favourable record over the Wallabies in the last decade, with the All Blacks suffering just six defeats and two draws in the 11 years prior to 2021, all of those ‘non-wins’ came in separate seasons. As such, this year’s clean-sweep was just the fourth in 12 years.
Unsurprisingly, the All Blacks won’t be letting their guard down in their rematch with Argentina this weekend, despite scoring 78 unanswered points against the Pumas in their past two encounters.
“It’s the same this week with Argie,” Taylor said. “They’ll be hurting, they’ll be pretty fired up to go out there and prove they’re a world-class team. It’s just different challenges, I think.”
The 39-0 win on Sunday marked the equal-largest margin the All Blacks have ever recorded over the Pumas outside of New Zealand, but there were still plenty of areas where Taylor and his teammates will be hoping to improve ahead of Saturday.
That means acknowledging the successes but also remaining grounded in successive victories. At present, the All Blacks have won all seven of their matches in 2021, scoring 386 points and conceding just 104.
“I think [the key is] being – not harsh – but realistic with every performance,” Taylor said. “This team’s got a new vision of where we want to get to and we’re striving in that direction. It’s pretty exciting to see and it’s a great team to be a part of. The culture’s building really nicely.
“Even on the weekend just gone… there’s still areas we want to really work on and nail and if we do that, we’re taking our game to another level. That’s part of the vision, really. Teams are obviously after us and there are some big games coming up as well. We have to get better, it’s the reality of test footy.”
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