Thursday, September 29, 2022

Rugby woes: Things look black in All Black land after defeat

WELLINGTON, New Zealand ( Associated Press) — A nagging fear that has settled in the back of the minds of New Zealand rugby fans in recent years blossomed into a stark and inevitable reality on Saturday: The All Blacks are already they are not the best team in the world and may not be again, at least for a while.

Ireland’s 23-12 victory over New Zealand in the second test on Saturday, which sent the three-match series to a decider, was historic but not unexpected.

If there was a canary in the goldmine, warning of the insidious forces behind the All Blacks’ recent decline, it has been Ireland. The Irish had not beaten New Zealand in 113 years until they did so for the first time in 2016.

They have now won four of the last seven Tests between the teams, in venues as diverse as Chicago, Dublin and Dunedin, where they recorded their first victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand on Saturday.

All Blacks fans were left shocked not just by the fact but by the manner of the defeat. Ireland controlled the game from the start, keeping the All Blacks under pressure, forcing them to make mistakes. At any point in the match, New Zealand were barely hanging on, especially when they were reduced to 13 men twice during the first half, to 14 for the entire second period.

A lack of discipline was the most obvious of many flaws in the All Blacks’ performance and they now head to Wellington for Saturday’s decider under unprecedented pressure. A confident Ireland team who, having achieved a historic victory in the test, have now set their sights on an even more momentous series win.

The ramifications of the All Blacks’ loss have been immediate. When the new world rankings are released this week, New Zealand is expected to drop to fourth place, matching its lowest ranking to date.

To a certain extent, the classification can even be generous. The All Blacks have recently lost to England, South Africa, France and Ireland, suggesting that, on reveal, they are possibly only the fifth best team in the world.

The reaction on social media from New Zealand fans was also typically harsh: All Blacks fans rarely accept defeat with equanimity.

Many fans called for the firing of head coach Ian Foster, whose popularity even before Saturday’s game was low. Others called for Captain Sam Cane to leave. Fans separately called the All Blacks’ performance horrible, heartbreaking, tragic, a disaster and a farce.

Foster, at his darkest during a postgame news conference, matched that mood, calling the performance “unacceptable” and “poor.”

In the week leading up to the final test, Foster said that “we just have to trust ourselves and trust what we do and ultimately stand behind your own skill level. That’s something we have to go and work hard on.”

If New Zealand lose again next weekend, Foster’s chances of leading the All Blacks to next year’s World Cup in France will be substantially reduced.

The cause of the All Blacks’ recent poor form is hard to pin down. To be sure, teams from the northern hemisphere have improved, often under the guidance of New Zealand coaches who were unable to find positions in their own country.

England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland won tests against opponents from the southern hemisphere on Saturday to send their series into deciders.

An important factor is that the standard of Super Rugby, the main professional competition in the southern hemisphere, has fallen, especially since South African teams left the competition to play in the northern hemisphere. The tournament no longer serves its purpose of developing Test-caliber players.

At the same time, New Zealand Rugby has distracted itself from the deteriorating standard of the national game as it seeks a deal with California-based tech investor Silver Lake, which it sees as essential to ensuring the financial health of rugby in New Zealand.

With Australia now poised to leave Super Rugby in 2024, a decisive move is needed to create a new competition that can support the strength of future All Blacks teams.


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Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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