Opinion: Has the All Blacks dominance made international rugby less exciting?

Opinion: Has the All Blacks dominance made international rugby less exciting?

Former England footballer Gary Lineker once said “football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

Applied to the All Blacks, Lineker’s quote fits like a glove. I’m sure plenty of opposition have walked off the park feeling the same way. Since Steve Hansen took over in 2011, the All Blacks have lost three times in 59 games. That’s one every 18 months. I therefore wonder why fans and media of their opposition get down when they lose. It’s virtually inevitable. 

I don’t really understand why the Wallabies have been getting so much stick from everyone, particularly their own media. Did anyone really expect a different result than what happened in both Sydney and Wellington? Perhaps the Aussies could have shown a bit more fight, but to be honest the results were a foregone conclusion.

It has been a pattern over the last few years, and I for one have mixed emotions about the situation. On one hand it’s great that the All Blacks have conquered all of their rivals and can walk away with an easy victory even when they don’t play that well. The back-to-back World Cups have shown that the All Blacks are no longer an all-talk, no product team that plagued the country for years. Also, the way that new talent filters through into the side and can immediately acclimatise and produce quality performances is superb. 

But on the other hand, I take the success with a grain of salt. When was the last time the All Blacks were actually in a contest? It’s certainly been some time since I watched them play a memorably tense game. In the last couple of years I can only think of two – the World Cup semi-final against South Africa last year where they held on to win 20-18, and the 2014 end of year Bledisloe Test against Australia where a last minute converted try snuck a one point victory in Brisbane.

It just seems that the tension and drama of international rugby has been lost. I don’t blame the All Blacks because they are obviously a huge step ahead of everyone, with their free-flowing attacking brand of rugby unmatched by any other nation. But until the rest of the world catches up, I’ll watch the All Blacks wipe the floor with their opposition. Like everyone else, I’ll be mightily impressed. But I won’t be surprised, nor will I be particularly excited.

When the Lions toured in 2005 with a fantastic team, no one expected the All Blacks to dominate the series like they did. Therefore, when Dan Carter took over the second test in Wellington and blew away the formidable Lions side, he sent New Zealand into raptures. The atmosphere at those games was electric, as the crowd was buoyed by the tension of the game and the unknowing result that waited at the conclusion of 80 minutes. A similar scene was set when the All Blacks barely hung on against France to secure the long-awaited World Cup five years ago.

Those are the days and games that I miss, even if my heart did beat at twice the speed and the nerves gave me the shakes. That’s the beauty of watching sport. Unfortunately, that seems to have been lost recently, simply because the All Blacks have become so good that no one can compete with them. I now watch the games expecting a show, rather than hoping for a win. The latter is inevitable, and therefore the former becomes the priority. Like the Harlem Globetrotters, the All Blacks have become more of a spectacle than a sports team. Whether that’s a good or bad thing, I am unsure.

This article first appeared in Issue 21, 2016.
Posted 10:50am Sunday 4th September 2016 by Sean Nugent.