Sunday, November 18, 2012

Time-wasting All Blacks tests: What's the point?

OPINION: I've heard all the sporting cliches after the All Blacks' win over Italy at the weekend.
"This will be really good for world rugby" and "Italy have learnt a lot in recent years" have, predictably, been hauled out.
The best thing about the game, by far, was thankfully it did not resemble the borefest of three years ago in Milan.
Yes, great atmosphere, equally good stadium and the weather was perfect, but don't for a minute think that was good for world rugby.
Sure, the Italians have learnt a bit, that's only natural, but they are never going to beat the All Blacks. Not yesterday, not next year, probably not ever.
Same with Scotland. The gulf between Scottish rugby and New Zealand rugby is wider than ever.
So why then does the New Zealand Rugby Union play these sides so regularly?
I know there are International Rugby Board regulations that these matches must take place but the All Blacks meet Italy and Scotland enough times at the Rugby World Cup without having to schedule these waste of time tests on end of year tours.
It's time these tours actually started becoming meaningful.
There is a counter argument that these occasions provide a platform for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to blood young and untried players, but what does he really learn from seeing the rookies come up against opposition who would barely find a place in most Super Rugby teams, Australia aside?
Not much, I would suggest.
Yes it was nice to see Taranaki's Beauden Barrett given an opportunity, but his time will come.
It's time for these end-of-year tours to comprise three-test series, preferably against France, England or Wales, although the last might be pushing it given their awful form of late.
When was the last time the All Blacks actually played the trio in a proper series away from home?
It should not be that these series are solely reserved for New Zealand shores.
For starters, it is totally unfair on the sides north of the equator to have to come all the way down here, always at the end of their taxing seasons, to try to win a series.
One-off tests, which rugby fans are fed year after year, provide no real insight into how the teams compare.
A series provides strong test nations the opportunity to learn how to beat their opposition, forces coaches into actually coming up with different game plans and puts pressure on teams and players to perform when injuries hit.
Another counter argument would be the vast majority of these series would be dead rubbers by the time it came to the third test but that should not be an influencing factor because England and France are capable of taking a test off the All Blacks, if given the chance.
NZRU boss Steve Tew skilfully negotiated a return of $4 million for his union's coffers for next month's test at Twickenham.
Why not treble that and put some real money in the bank?
The appetite of England and France supporters would certainly be there and it would force the All Blacks into unfamiliar venues, which in itself would bring different challenges.

The All Blacks are victims of their own success at the moment and it is starting to reflect in their play. The fact Hansen made 14 changes from the side that belted Scotland meant it was always going to be a second-rate All Blacks performance against Italy and that was certainly the case for 65 minutes.
The All Blacks kicked away far too much possession, were inaccurate with a lot of their play and were static in their attack for long periods.
Maybe if the weekend's game had been a second test against meaningful opposition it would have been a completely different story.

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