Nick Cain: All Blacks are simply the best – at PR hype

New ZealandThe 2011–2012 All Blacks are on the brink of becoming one of the great sides, with their victory in Soweto over South Africa last weekend not only confirming the world champions as winners of the inaugural Southern Hemisphere Championship, but bringing them a step closer to overhauling the record for consecutive Test wins for a top tier nation.
The record, shared by New Zealand and South Africa, stands at 17, and before Richie McCaw’s side notched their sixteenth victory on the bounce by beating the Springboks 32-16, the South African captain, Jean de Villiers, said that if the Boks could not stop them he feared no one else could.
“It sort of scares the living daylights out of me…that they can go on to 23, 24 Tests. That’s quite a big record. For us as South Africans, being shareholders of that record, we have a responsibility to protect it. New Zealand is chasing something quite big.”
The upshot is that if McCaw’s New Zealand beat the wobbly Wallabies in next weekend’s dead Bledisloe Cup rubber in Brisbane to equal the record, all that stands between them and making history in the autumn series are Scotland, Italy, Wales and England, in that order.
The mission to set a new record, and extend it, is almost certainly the only reason that captain fantastic McCaw has not already started his sabbatical – and there is no question that his All Blacks deserve many of the plaudits heaped on them. Their remarkable consistency, sustained ability to set the bar higher than any other rugby country, entertaining raider rugby – with its focus on brilliant counter-attack – and unwavering focus on winning, come what may, have seen them break away from the chasing peleton.
However, if Scotland, Italy, Wales and England believe the hype that surrounds this New Zealand side, with the uninformed already lauding them as the greatest team of all time, then they will be beaten before they set foot on the pitch.
This already happens more often than not, and a big part of mentally knocking the stuffing out the opposition is the myth of All Black invincibility. It is peddled by the media, both Kiwi and around the globe, and is helped by an All Black propaganda machine which reinforces their virtues in terms of superior skills, fitness, and adherence to best practice concerning the laws, to anyone who will listen – but with special emphasis to getting the message across to match officials.
CartoonAs a result, the number of Test referees who virtually worship at the All Black altar has multiplied to the extent that they invariably get the benefit of any doubts. In particular, New Zealand are far more successful in getting away with killing or slowing opposition ball than any other team, and in attack they are NFL standard  with forward passes.
This kow-towing is a failing with almost every nation apart from New Zealand’s greatest rivals, South Africa, and, on occasions, France. The legion of rugby romantics in Britain and Ireland in thrall to the All Blacks, both in the media, and the rugby community at large, unwittingly help to foster the defeatism.
Most television pundits are like a stuck record when it comes to telling us how brilliant New Zealand are, and yet offer nothing in the way of analysis and insight into how they might be beaten. They might reflect that we’ve heard it all before, notably when the All Blacks were due to annihilate all-comers at the 2007 World Cup. Yet, a non-compliant referee later, with Wayne Barnes ironically missing a couple of French forward passes and refusing to let McCaw and co. have a free hand at the breakdown, and the ‘invincible’ myth took a beating. McCaw’s side are superb on the counter-attack, and are very good in most departments, but they are not unbeatable. France were the better team in the 2011 World Cup final, and bar crucial penalty decisions that went the way of the home team – such as Jerome Kaino’s blatant breakdown offside in front of his own posts in the closing minutes – they would have lost. In the second Test of their summer tour Ireland blew their best chance to date to beat the All Blacks, and in the Championship the Australians, Argentines and South Africans all found cracks in New Zealand’s armour.
South Africa not only led 16-12 at half-time in Soweto, they had cramped New Zealand with a territorial kicking game, and the power of their lineout and driving maul. However, although a poor clearance by centre Jaco Taute had shown how scalpel-like the All Black counter-attack is, with two 25m passes putting lock Sam Whitelock over, South Africa became looser after the break – and paid the price.
However, the Springbok tactics were not wrong, even if their execution fell short. The All Black pack is mobile but not the biggest – if their official website is to be believed, Whitelock is only 102kg – and the Boks showed that their scrum and lineout, with no tall back row option, can be squeezed.
Combine that with a cocktail of a mixed attack, including a pin-point kicking game which peppers them with bombs, grubbers, kick-passes and wipers for the corner, and a ferocious chase, and McCaw’s side can be pressured like any other. Accuracy and aggression are the watchwords because NZ punish missed tackles and missed touches like no other team, and it is essential to target the ball in defence. Rip or wrap in the tackle so they cannot spring support runners, and in attack concentrate on the clear out, getting quick ball, and finish your own chances ruthlessly.
Beating these All Blacks requires 80 minutes of accurate, aggressive, almost error- free rugby. It is a tall order, but it has been done before, and will be done again – as long as we don’t buy into the supermen myth.

2 Comments

  1. Unfortunately your ‘chip on the shoulder’ piece has little to back it up statistically – in fact you may well be guilty of hype yourself. Not sure that being being to the Springboks, at home, is the sign of weakness you claim, or simply dis-respect for the Boks themsleves. No team matches up the the ABs in terms of consistency or success for over a century. Suspect that you are one of the small minded nthn hemisphere hacks who secretly has hidden in your wardrobe dated videos of rare All Black losses which you view secretly with glee

  2. Right on SK. I think that this writer’s future is with Fox News where jealous fantasy is fact. Unlike Obama, he cain’t.

Leave a Comment