The All Blacks' record defeat to Springboks is exactly what they needed
When the full-time whistle sounded at Twickenham a couple of weeks ago, the All Blacks’ players, coaches and fans were left stunned.
In their final warm-up Test before the impending Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks had fallen to their worst-ever defeat. They were beaten, far too easily, 35-7 by South Africa in London.
Playing in front of more than 80,000 vibrant fans, the All Blacks couldn’t withstand the relentless waves of attack from the world champion Boks. Scott Barrett’s red card didn’t help, either.
But in the wake of that Test, many fans have deemed that match as ‘meaningless’ ahead of the World Cup. It seems like an attempt to cling onto hope, or risk falling into a pit of reality and pessimism.
In reality, the truth may hurt. The current crop of All BLakcs has since been branded the “weakest” New Zealand team in history by former France flanker Olivier Magne.
“To me, the big three of this World Cup is France, South Africa and Ireland,” Magne wrote in a column for Midi Olympique.
“I am especially worried about this New Zealand team.
“South Africa’s display against New Zealand is significant for the world of rugby.
“Now, isn’t this All Black team the weakest in history? I’m wondering. Really, I feel like New Zealand’s Rugby Championship wins were a bit of a sham.”
With the coveted Qatar Airways Cup up for grabs, the All Blacks were blown off the park. It was a bad defeat, but at least they won The Rugby Championship; at least they retained the Bledisloe.
While the rugby world still looks down upon the “weakest” All Blacks team in history, there’s a glimmer of hope for New Zealand fans.
From a New Zealander point of view, the All Blacks losing is never a good thing – but there’s an exception to every rule.
During the professional era, the All Blacks have never gone into a successful World Cup campaign on the back of a perfect run.
The Kiwis were beaten by South Africa and Australia in back-to-back Test leading into their drought-breaking World Cup triumph in 2011 and lost to the Wallabies a month before the 2015 event.
They were even beaten in their last Test before the inaugural World Cup, although that match against France was in November of 1986.
So, if you want onto cling to hope, then this is the stat for you.
The All Blacks, as good as they are, need to learn lessons from time to time when there’s a bigger prize or goal up for grabs.
That piece of history suggests that the All Blacks can win this World Cup, although “serious questions” will still be asked of them.
“Looking at the scoreboard, 35-nil after 65 minutes, I couldn’t believe it. Seven of the nine worst-ever Springbok defeats have come against the old enemy,” journalist Mark Keohane said after the Boks’ 35-7 win on Weekend Sport with Jason Pine.
“It was really the statement performance… they go into the World Cup on a high and New Zealand, for me, go in with some serious questions, once again, about their forward pack.”
If the All Blacks had won that Test at Twickenham, certainly by the emphatic scoreline the Boks achieved, the New Zealand rugby fans would be praising that game as perfect preparation.
The All Blacks would be riding high as the only unbeaten side going into this year’s tournament. They’d rather rightfully be bestowed the ‘favourites’ tag as well.
But, in truth, the All Blacks aren’t quite ready to be the favourites again. Having lost their last Test against Ireland, South Africa and France, this team needs to grow as much as possible.
Instead, they’re ranked fourth in the world and that’s a fairly accurate representation of where they’re placed. The All Blacks probably won’t win the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they can’t.
That’s what an underdog is.
While New Zealand fans have taken the glass-half-full approach by writing off that Test as a meaningless battle, you can be sure that the All Blacks haven’t.
They got taught a lesson, and they’ll need to do their homework if they are to challenge for the sport’s ultimate prize in Frace.
Looking back at that loss in a year, fans may agree that it was the defeat the All Blacks needed. It wasn’t meaningless at all.
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