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What everyone doesn't get about beating the All Blacks

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Dan Peled / www.photosport.nz)

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Every team wants to do it. At least, they think they want to. When they achieve it, the outpouring of emotion is amazing.

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South Africa once again managed the feat for the first time since 2018. We were treated to heartwarming scenes that night as Springbok players cried on the Wellington pitch after a thrilling 36-34 win.

Again on Saturday, captain Siya Kolisi embracing his hooker Bongi Mbonambi at full time will be an image that will be remembered fondly. The Springboks climbed the mountain, conquered everyone’s Everest.

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John Kirwan on the most concerning aspect of the All Blacks loss
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John Kirwan on the most concerning aspect of the All Blacks loss

You would think this team had just won a World Cup final, or at least this year’s Rugby Championship. But no it was the end to a third-placed finish. A win over the All Blacks often brings on emotions so heavy they can not be hidden, it means so much.

What about the brilliant Pumas in Sydney 2020, finally earning a 25-15 historic win when no one gave them a chance? It was magnificent for the game, and for Argentinian rugby to earn such a result.

Who will forget the Irish players collapsing to the ground, hugging, fists clenched and arms cocked in celebration as Ireland beat the All Blacks for the second time in 2018? What about the first time in Chicago in 2016? Amazing scenes.

And what happened next for all those teams?

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In 2016 Ireland turned up back home for a re-match and were beaten up by an All Blacks side labelled as thugs. The win in 2018 could be seen as the peak of Irish rugby as their next game to open the Six Nations ended with a humbling at the hands of England in 2019.

What about that 2019 England side and their famous semi-final win over the All Blacks? We don’t even need to say it.

Those 2020 Pumas? They drew with the Wallabies 15-all in their next match, who were also coming off a 24-22 win over the All Blacks. Neither of them could get a win after beating New Zealand. And the next week too, another draw. Fitting.

That brilliant 36-34 win in Wellington by the Springboks in 2018 was followed up by a home win over the Wallabies before a colossal meltdown in Pretoria as the All Blacks returned the favour 32-30 before going 2-2 in November.

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In 2017, the British and Irish Lions side who ended a nine-year All Blacks home winning streak in Wellington didn’t lose their next game but didn’t win either. Following Romain Poite’s admission, they could be counted as lucky to escape a loss.

The 2015 and 2019 Wallabies sides managed to get wins over the All Blacks at home, only to return to Eden Park for their next games and get savaged.

What about the 2014 Springboks side who managed to finish the Rugby Championship on a massive high when Pat Lambie’s clutch long-range penalty sunk the All Blacks? They had a break, went on the end of year tour and lost to Ireland first up.

Beating the All Blacks is a poisoned chalice. It seems to suck the life out of you.

Teams put so much emphasis on trying to beat them that when they do, they don’t know what to do next. Maybe they cannot get up again after reaching such a high. And who can say these Springboks didn’t just put every last ounce of energy into the game they just played?

From the 14 wins over the men in black over the last 10 years, five of those victors won their next game. Just 35 per cent. Only two out of the 14 were able to avoid a loss or draw in the two games after their glorious feat.

How is that possible that you beat the most successful team over the last decade, and then just 35 per cent of those teams have been able to win their very next game after such a conquering?

It didn’t matter if they were playing next week, next month, the next year or if you were playing New Zealand again.

The five that did win had some lucky breaks as well.

The 2017 Wallabies got a win over Japan, a developing nation that was playing a one-off game. The 2012 England side who finished their year with their win had five months before opening 2013 with a win over Scotland.

The 2011 Wallabies who secured the Tri-Nations over the All Blacks got to open their World Cup campaign against Italy. They then played Ireland in their next pool game and lost.

The 2011 Springboks who ended that same Tri-Nations with a win over the All Blacks scraped to a 17-16 win over Wales in their opening pool game. Their next tier-one match was their 11-9 quarter-final defeat to the Wallabies.

Teams that beat the All Blacks don’t fare well afterward, plain and simple.

Just ask the 2007 and 1999 France sides who knocked New Zealand out of the World Cup. What did they end up with after their mammoth upsets? What about the 2003 Wallabies, after George Gregan proclaimed “four more years”?

Based on history, the only time you would want to beat the All Blacks is in a final. If you are unlucky enough to have to face them before then, good luck to you after climbing Everest.

Losing in the pool stages was a massive blessing for the 2019 Springboks, deflating expectations and handing them a golden path. It sounds like it helped the team, putting perspective back in place as to ‘what is pressure’ and allowed a mental reset.

History is littered with teams that beat NZ soon hitting major stumbling blocks, while for the All Blacks it is really these losses that fuel the long-term success.

The losses drain away any lingering complacency, any thought of comfort, content or satisfaction. It brings the focus back to processes, not outcomes, that the wins may have papered over.

It becomes an introspective process as they respond the right way to get back on the right path. You don’t usually hear them putting blame elsewhere. They will withdraw and internalise every detail of the loss, extract every bit of value that they can from the experience to shape change and evolve.

Losses for the All Blacks are the most valuable thing you could give them, which is why they seem to bounce back quickly, grow stronger and continue on. Until some unlucky souls manage to get one over them again.

Just remember, the Lion with the full belly doesn’t hunt. He does absolutely nothing. It was nice to see the Springboks reach the starvation stage but you better digest that meal quickly.

Good luck on the end-of-year tour.

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