The All Blacks can't have it both ways if tests aren't meaningful
This is what happens when you abandon all pretence of accountability.
By rights, the All Blacks should be applauded for beating Argentina 53-3 in Hamilton last Saturday.
Now, I would argue it was an adequate performance over an opponent who was inadequate on the night.
I don’t know how the Pumas celebrated their win of the previous week but, given the way they behaved on the field after that match in Christchurch, I think most seasoned observers believed they’d never be as desperate seven days later.
Frankly, Argentina looked like they’d spent most of the week in the hotel bar.
Oh well, it’s not as if these results matter.
That’s the issue for the All Blacks in 2022. New Zealand Rugby (NZR), through their continued endorsement of Ian Foster, have told us that outcomes are immaterial.
As long as the players like their head coach and are convinced that the team is “building,’’ then this season is a success.
Ordinarily a 50-point win over a credible foe would be cause for celebration. But given losses don’t count in 2022, we can hardly turn around and hail victories either.
I feel a bit for the team in that regard. I mean it’s still rather embarrassing that they have to be shamed into performing to their potential, but that’s because rugby in New Zealand faces broader issues than just the men in black.
This isn’t an elite All Blacks team and there are systemic reasons for that.
It is kind of weird, though, that it seems to take a week of public and media criticism to rouse them into action, but it’s at least nice to know they will play well when they absolutely have to.
That is the issue I’ve always had with this regime. That performances and results can be consistently below previous expectations and yet nothing meaningful changes.
Provided the occasional victory is thrown in to quiet the baying masses, everything’s hunky dory.
I’ve written before, partly tongue-in-cheek, that I reckon the All Blacks can go unbeaten for the rest of the year. Admittedly, I wrote that before the first Argentine test, but I stand by it.
I don’t see anything on the schedule that should frighten the team and I think we’re all entitled to expect a cleansweep of the clashes with Australia, Japan, Wales, Scotland and even England.
The question is though: can we congratulate the All Blacks for it if they do?
And I mean that.
The team and NZR can’t have it both ways. Either every test result is important or none of them are.
I do genuinely wish there were sterner tests ahead of this side in the remainder of the season, because it is difficult to get a read on whether improvements are being made.
I am enthused about the propping rotation of Ethan de Groot, George Bowler, Tyrel Lomax and Fletcher Newell. Samisoni Taukei’aho looks an outstanding hooker and I still think Dane Coles can be relied upon in 20-minute cameos.
But I retain misgivings about openside and blindside flanker, halfback, first five-eighth, second five-eighth, centre, right wing and fullback.
I’d love it if England at Twickenham was a real challenge. I’d love the All Blacks to face some real adversity there and to find a way to prevail.
Ultimately, though, we have what we have – in terms of players and coaches – and not a lot’s going to change between now and the World Cup.
Football is the model for rugby now. Outside of tournaments such as the world cup and European championships, every other international match in that sport is a friendly.
They’re games help to build confidence and combinations, but the outcomes are essentially meaningless.
I find it a shame to see All Blacks test matches become an irrelevance, but that is the situation that NZR have created.
Beating Argentina on Saturday was certainly better than losing to them, but it proved nothing.
All the eggs are in the World Cup basket and the only results that matter will be there.
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