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Rugby | Rugby Championship

WRAP: All Blacks dominate again

It took just 120 minutes of rugby for the All Blacks to enforce their superiority and signal to the world that they won’t let their crown of being the world’s best slip ever so slightly.

Because while some may argue in a tough 2017 the aura of the black jersey may have slipped a bit through a series draw with the British and Irish Lions, and a singular loss to the Wallabies in Bledisloe 3, the mighty New Zealand side is right for the taking.

Certainly you can see Eddie Jones’ minions plotting and planning an all out PR attack on the double World Champions when the two sides meet later in 2018.

But for now, and for the purposes of the Rugby Championship there was no doubt about it. 120 minutes of rugby settled the score. The All Blacks are still streets ahead of their Sanzaar partners, and with the turmoil in the rest of the organisation and teams either in rebuilding or in flux, it is doubtful when they will be challenged for the Southern Hemisphere trophy in the near future.

So while the Lions may have dented their pride, and certainly deserve a world of credit for their efforts in their long-awaited tour, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of challenges awaiting the All Blacks from their Sanzaar partners just yet, the lone Aussie victory not withstanding.

And while many will want to point to the one-point win over the Springboks as proof that the All Blacks can be challenged, the Boks results on their end of year tour point more to an anomaly than a genuine challenge under the current management system.

It can be argued that the Newlands game and subsequent loss to Australia came at the end of a tired year, when the All Blacks had already clinched the championship, had travelled around the world in a short time, and had been mentally exhausted on top of their earlier Lions challenge.

Still, the first half against Australia in Sydney, where the All Blacks scored in the ninth minute and had racked up six tries by halftime, before a late comeback made a 54-34 scoreline look a bit more respectable, signalled that when they turn it on, there are few who can go toe-to-toe with them.

Albany is a day best forgotten in Springbok history, but expressed the gulf between the two sides, and more than that, exposed the problems in the Springbok leadership group. To see senior Bok players (admittedly with a handful of tests behind them) silently lining up behind the posts is something no Springbok fan will want to see. The lack of fightback, the stunned subservience speaks more volumes than any of the strides the Springboks had made before that day.

Of course Newlands showed there is still a bit of fight in the dog left, and the Boks were resolute and defended like demons, but for all the bravado they never won. For all their impressive forays in making the All Blacks look ordinary, it was a day that showed that even when cornered, the All Blacks found a way to win.

It may have reminded some players that these black jerseys aren’t supermen, but it did also show that the Boks can get it right most of the time. Malcolm Marx’s performance should serve as an inspiration of what could be, but to praise the result as a step forward would be both wrong and embarrassing.

Australia showed that while Michael Cheika is a loose cannon, and their domestic rugby is in the dumps, they could mix it up as 15 players on the field. Whatever you may think of Cheika – and he brings plenty of the criticism on himself – he is a decent coach as he patched a side together to beat Argentina and draw twice with South Africa. Both games were a victory for the Wallabies as the Boks failed to take their chances. But the results stand and the Aussies ended above the Boks in a mediocre year miles behind the men in black.

It is hard to talk about the Rugby Championship as well without mentioning the downward spiral Argentina finds itself in. With a decent coach and domestic only approach to picking their players, they have suffered the same fate as the Boks. Their home-based talent is lured away to Europe and those who stay struggle to be consistent enough to challenge the other Sanzaar countries.

2017 was a strange year for the Rugby Championship, and it showed – despite the epic clash in Newlands – that the All Blacks hardly had to raise a sweat to keep their title.

This in itself should be worrying to the Southern Hemisphere dominance of World Rugby. The All Blacks look in good nick, but elsewhere there was hardly anything to shout about.


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