It’s not the All Blacks’ fault that South Africa are sitting out The Rugby Championship.
Nor are they to blame Argentina’s shambolic preparation or the ineptitude of Australia’s performance on Saturday night.
But those things do mean we have to reserve judgement on anything this New Zealand team does in 2020.
The Wallabies were pathetic, in losing 43-5 to the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium.
Comparisons have inevitably been drawn between this game and the 1996 clash between the two countries at Athletic Park, where New Zealand were 43-6 victors. The truth is those two matches bear little resemblance because of the sad decline in the standard of Australian rugby.
Maybe we were fools to ourselves after last month’s 16-16 draw at Sky Stadium. Maybe we wanted some competition so badly and wanted to believe in Dave Rennie and wanted Ian Foster to face a bit of scrutiny that we completely overplayed Australia’s performance..
Maybe it was just a rusty day out for the All Blacks. Maybe if Rieko Ioane put the ball down properly then they’d have kicked away and won by plenty. Maybe the Wallabies are only any good when expectations are at an all-time low.
Whatever the case, the task Rennie faces as Australia coach remains a massive one. The Wallabies lack smarts and skills and grunt and their depth borders on non-existent.
Will they be competitive occasionally? Sure. But they’re a long way off finding the consistency required to regularly excel at international level.
After Wellington, I wrote that they could. In hindsight, I’ll have to admit I was wrong.
None of which tells us much about the All Blacks.
We don’t really fo short-termism in New Zealand. We’re always thinking in Rugby World Cup cycles and always trying to determine a team’s place in history.
We’re looking for greatness and confirmation that a squad and a coaching group does or doesn’t have that in them. All Blacks teams aren’t judged week-to-week, but against how they compare with all those who’ve gone before them.
We haven’t a clue about this New Zealand side. And we won’t for a while yet, either.
Without any actual opposition to gauge these guys against, there’s nothing that can be said about this team or the quality of their coaches.
South Africa, England, France and Ireland are the benchmark sides and sadly none are on the itinerary right now.
You have to admire SA Rugby. There aren’t many governing bodies who wouldn’t put money ahead of player welfare or legacy.
A Springboks’ side could’ve been cobbled together and could’ve been dispatched to Australia but, in the circumstances, it wouldn’t have performed a lot better than the Wallabies have.
As for the All Blacks well, without wanting to labour the point too much, we’re still little the wiser.
I’m not convinced about their props, blindside flanker is up for grabs, captain Sam Cane remains susceptible to head knocks, Richie Mo’unga hasn’t established himself at 10, Jack Goodhue is having an underwhelming year and Jordie Barrett isn’t a wing.
I get that Mo’unga collected a big haul of points in Bledisloe III, but I go back to the question of who was he actually playing against? Put Beauden Barrett at first five-eighth in Sydney and he’d have carved Australia up too.
The reason we all got carried away after Wellington was because we’d seen a contest. Weeks on, people still talk about how much they enjoyed that test.
Saturday in Sydney was momentarily entertaining, but it was never a contest. The only interest was in seeing how clinical the All Blacks could be.
New Zealand’s netball team have just completed a 3-0 series win over England. The second test was by far the most enjoyable, because New Zealand’s flaws were first exposed and then exploited.
As the good teams do, the Silver Ferns adjusted and responded and went on to win 54-47. The margins of victory might’ve been larger in each of the other matches, but neither performance was as impressive as that one.
This All Blacks team has its flaws too. Flaws that, at this rate, won’t be exposed until we’re another year through the world cup cycle.
People can wax lyrical about these players, they can praise Foster and his staff. But until we see them all put under pressure, we’ve got no idea if they’re actually any good.
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