All Black Sabbath
Was a week that started with endless huffing and puffing over the carbon tax ever going to end in anything other than a black out?
The Wallabies didn’t lose their Rugby World Cup semi final against New Zealand last night because Quade Cooper kicked the very first ball of the match over the sideline, and was largely ineffectual thereafter. Though as omens go, that first kick was a doozy.
Neither, as some are suggesting, did they lose because of biased refereeing, or because the result was somehow influenced by telecast sponsor Tom Waterhouse - the son of a bookmaker implicated in Australia’s greatest racing scandal.
Put simply, the Wallabies lost because the All Blacks are the greatest sporting team in the history of world sport, and they finally found a way not to choke when it matters most.
Seriously, I defy anyone to say the All Blacks are the not history’s most dominant team in a major international sport where at least 10 nations are competitive.
Over 108 years, they have won 363 of their 483 matches. That’s a win ratio of almost 77 per cent. Break the stats down by opposition and it’s even more impressive. If you discount amalgamated teams (like the World XV and British Lions), the All Blacks have lost to just five fully-fledged nations in their history.
Show me a team from a country of four million people with a record like that in any sport. The USA basketball team might be the closest thing to an eternally dominant power in a major global team sport, but they’ve got closer to 400 million people to choose from.
Brazil and Germany dominate the round ball game, but they’re never that far ahead of the field. Not year after year and decade after decade and even century after century.
Of course, as we all know, the All Blacks’ Achilles Heel has long been the World Cup. Since winning the first Cup on home soil in 1987 – against France, the same opponent they’ll face next weekend – they have found a way to choke in the knockout stages each time.
Sporting history is full of famous chokes but none of them on the nightmarish, recurring scale of the all Blacks at Rugby World Cups. Before last night, they had never beaten Australia at a World Cup. At our last meeting in 2003, they were definitely better on paper than us. Yet somehow we prevailed.
Not this time. At Eden Park last night, the All Blacks defence was an impregnable black wall. Like sheepdogs herding sheep, they were always in command. Why did they get things so right for once? Well, if you had to put it down to one thing, you’d say that injuries to key players like star fly half Dan Carter actually helped them.
Not that they’ve found a number 10 who comes close to matching Carter’s all-round game, but the point is, the All Blacks’ setbacks have clearly galvanised their spirit. Backs to the wall and all that.
In 2007, when they crashed out to France in the quarter finals, the All Blacks had massive problems with team continuity. But those problems were of their own doing. In their preparation for the Cup, they wrapped players in cotton wool and the first XV were virtual strangers to each other. Little wonder they compounded under pressure.
This time around, the fresh faces were there to plug gaps, not to replace players who were never going to play the big games. It’s a crucial difference.
If all this is starting to sound like some kind of love letter to the men in black, hell yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Over here on the less shaky side of the ditch, most Australians are secretly in awe of the All Blacks. We respect them deeply and yes, if we’re big enough to admit it, we actually wish the Wallabies were half as good.
Not to dismiss this Wallabies team. With its base of players from the Super XV champs, the Queensland Reds, and a young skipper in James Horwill, it will go places. But our entire rugby setup is not a patch on the All Blacks.
That’s understandable. New Zealand has just one NRL team to our 15. They don’t even play AFL. Rugby is king over there. Here, it probably sits fourth behind soccer in the national consciousness, if the interest in all states is taken into account.
What happens to the level of public interest in the Wallabies over the next four years will be fascinating to watch. Rugby needs World Cups like rugby league needs pokies. Our two World Cup wins have given the sport massive injections of oxygen. When we don’t win, the masses lose interest and the sport retreats ever more to its base in the leafy suburbs.
Channel Nine was loudly criticised for its woefully half-hearted World Cup coverage, and rightly so. Its final ambivalent act was to cut straight to Underbelly Razor straight after the match. No post-match analysis, nothing. A disgrace, in many ways.
Yet if you look at the big picture, you can understand Nine’s thinking.
It was as if they were saying “righto rugby, that’s your month-long period of relevance done with till 2015.” And in all reality, that’s what most Australians would have been thinking.
Anyway, it’s all done and dusted now. We could have played better but in truth, the All Blacks were too good. Can’t wait for their inevitable choke against France next week.
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