The Wallabies take early Bledisloe advantage over the All Blacks
We had people round on Saturday night, which meant a pick-the-score sweepstake.
A 50-point final margin seemed a safe bet and – at 60-13 at full-time – that wasn’t far wrong. But I thought New Zealand would be more empathic and ruthless – having thoroughly underwhelmed in winning the first test 57-23 – and I had hoped Fiji would still be worth two or three tries.
And they might have been, had referee Damon Murphy allowed them to play.
All of us wanted a semi-even tussle. Yes, it was nice to see the All Blacks do some decent things, but I reckon our lounge was typical of many around the country. We went up biggest and loudest whenever Fiji had the ball, simply out of a desire to see a contest.
Fiji have never beaten the All Blacks and that wasn’t about to change during this two-match series. Things got a bit close down in Dunedin, before the sinbinning of Fiji fullback Kini Murimurivalu killed that game as a spectacle.
We never got that far in Hamilton. Fiji were in the game for about three minutes and then it all became a bit of a bore.
Good teams get the rub of the green from referees. Heck, Super Rugby fans have watched the Crusaders enjoy that advantage for years.
It was natural, then, for Murphy to side with the All Blacks at times. They were the dominant team and, frankly, Fiji had to infringe just to compete.
But what purpose was served when Fiji captain Leone Nakarawa was sinbinned on Saturday? Repeated penalties was the apparent issue, never mind that the All Blacks were already out to a 22-6 lead.
Within a couple of minutes, New Zealand had scored again and the game was all over with the second 40 still to play.
What’s actually achieved in that situation? Fiji were already a beaten side by the time Nakarawa was binned. The All Blacks were always going to win and watching the referee repeatedly ping the weaker side left a sour taste.
How many of us have refereed mismatches at junior level? I get that this is test rugby and there are referee assessors on duty – and blokes like Murphy are whistling for a job – but why flog the battlers? You wouldn’t do it at your local park on Saturday morning, so what’s so different on this stage?
I realise that’s a bit of a long bow, but are we actually promoting Pasifika rugby here – as we claim to have done in these matches involving Samoa, Tonga and Fiji – or are we merely seeking to assert New Zealand’s superiority?
No harm would have been done by at least allowing Fiji to play the full 80 minutes with 15 men. And, if nothing else, it would’ve given the All Blacks a better preparation for the games ahead.
New Zealand’s eventual 60-13 win signified nothing. Their performance in Dunedin had left a bit to be desired, so they were always going to be better second time around. But, honestly, putting 60 points on this Fiji team is hardly an achievement.
Compare these games against Tonga and now Fiji to what Australia and France have been up to. France still have better players up their sleeve, but that shouldn’t diminish what Australia did in winning that series 2-1.
All three games were on a knife-edge and Australia won the decider with only 14 men, after New Zealand’s Ben O’Keeffe was convinced to send wing Marika Koroibete off.
I won’t debate the merits of that decision, but there can be no question that the Wallabies have gotten way more out of their Bledisloe Cup build-up than the All Blacks have.
Sport needs uncertainty. We need for both teams to at least have the chance to compete, but these All Blacks tests have just been a procession.
And for what gain? We seem to have decided that the 60-13 result alleviates whatever pressure head coach Ian Foster might have been under, but we’re really none the wiser about him or the team.
Some time’s been bought, but until when? August 7, when a mediocre – but reasonably well-prepared – Australia rock up to Eden Park? What happens if the All Blacks don’t win that game by 30 points? Is Foster under the pump again?
Me? I just want to see the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship produce some contests. Just like I’d hoped to see when New Zealand met Fiji on Saturday night.
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