CAPE TOWN – Legendary Wallabies winger and Australian try-scoring record holder David Campese was the first to scream that the All Blacks aura was gone after last Sunday’s 16-all draw between Australia and New Zealand in Wellington.
It was no surprise.
Campese’s mouth hasn’t always connected with his brain because Australia didn’t win in Wellington and it has been 20 years since the Wallabies have won in New Zealand.
The All Blacks aura isn’t gone and it will never be gone.
What’s gone is their dominance over the rest.
The men in black are the most famed international team and the most successful international team in rugby and sporting history.
The Richie McCaw captained All Blacks who won back-to-back World Cups in 2011 and 2015 are the greatest team in modern rugby.
McCaw’s All Blacks, from the start of the 2011 World Cup until the 2015 winning final against Australia at Twickenham, lost just a handful of matches.
That was then and this is now.
The All Blacks of today couldn’t lace the boots of McCaw’s Magicians. Individually, the All Blacks who play Australia at Eden Park in Auckland on Sunday, have some wonderful players, but as a collective the run-on XV is as average as I’ve seen from an All Blacks side since the sport went professional in 1996.
The measurement always for the All Blacks is how many make a World XV every season. Equally, when the All Blacks play, how many of the opposition would make the All Blacks team.
In the McCaw and Dan Carter era, you’d consistently pick anywhere between 10 and 12 All Blacks to make a World XV. Not in 2020.
On reputation, scrumhalf Aaron Smith and flyhalf/fullback Beauden Barrett would always be part of a discussion and lock Brodie Retallick would always get my nod in the second row.
Retallick isn’t in the All Blacks this season as he is on sabbatical, Smith’s form all season has been inconsistent and Barrett, being played out of position at fullback, has been a poor imitation of the flyhalf named the world’s best two years in succession in 2017 and 2018.
Ian Foster’s appointment as head coach is indicative of the current All Blacks. Foster, as the team leader, screams mediocrity. We saw that when he coached the Chiefs in Super Rugby. They averaged 50 percent over a decade and never won the title.
Foster’s assistant John Plumtree is a very good coach, who achieved a lot of success with the Sharks and with the Hurricanes. Plumtree has a mountain to climb to turn the best available New Zealand forward talent into a force that consistently can compete with the forward units of South Africa and England.
South Africa were brutal in their power in the 2019 World Cup play-offs and England were equally impressive until South Africa dismantled them in the final.
England’s humiliation of the All Blacks in the semi-final was only matched by South Africa’s humiliation of England a week later.
The best two teams in world rugby played the final in Tokyo and nothing about the opening Bledisloe Cup draw a year later suggests that New Zealand or Australia will in the next 12 months be positioned in the top two of the game’s rankings.
The All Blacks will never be weak, which doesn’t mean that they will always be super strong.
Currently, they are not, and they haven’t been for the past two seasons.
The All Blacks were fragile heading into the 2019 World Cup and those players who took a beating from England were again roughed up by a new-look Wallabies.
Foster chose 17 of the 23 who were embarrassed by England in Tokyo to start the 2020 international season, and they couldn’t deliver. More worryingly for All Blacks supporters would have been the talk of the players post the match, in which several said they didn’t mentally pitch up for the Bledisloe Cup opener and that physically they weren’t up to standard.
These players had to wait 400 days to play a Test at home and that was their response?
All sporting teams have cycles, and the All Blacks are not the exception.
I’d always find a place for Barrett and Retallick in any team, including the World Cup-winning Springboks. Smith would also get my vote, but no other All Black currently would make a Springboks team, and several of the fringe Springboks, especially in the loose-forwards and at lock, would start for the All Blacks, such is the depth of South African talent in those areas.
The All Blacks traditionally are put on a pedestal because of their winning culture. More often than not, they’ve earned the right to purple prose by way of performance and consistency in performance.
But this lot has earned nothing through performance, except to strip away the mystique of the black jersey.
Where McCaw’s mighty marines led the pack, Sam Cane’s foot soldiers are very much part of a secondary pack.