The All Blacks must be celebrated for all they’ve achieved over the past decade rather than derided for any recent fall from grace, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Damn, it’s just a little too easy to kick someone when they’re down, isn’t it?
For the All Blacks, who have been at the pinnacle of the game for the better part of the past 10 years, there’s been more than just a little gleefulness from some after witnessing New Zealand slip from their perch at the top of the game.
Saturday’s shock defeat by Argentina was the All Blacks’ most significant flop in recent memory, while bringing their recent record to three wins, three defeats and a draw in their last seven Test matches.
Having suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time since 2011, the Kiwis have also now fallen to third in the world rankings, their joint lowest-ever position since November 2003.
It’s clear the All Blacks have begun to lose their way in key facets – from a lack of positional clarity to ill-discipline to a weakened forward pack – but it’s difficult to understand why so many rugby ‘lovers’ from outside New Zealand, and certainly in certain South African circles, seem to be pleased by this.
For so long, the All Blacks have been the benchmark in world rugby, and it’s driven teams to push for greater heights in order to measure themselves against the long-serving trendsetters in the game.
It’s no secret how much emphasis the Springboks placed on targeting a victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2018 in order to build belief in their ability to compete against the best and go on to win the 2019 World Cup.
The emotion and tears from hard men such as Pieter-Steph du Toit after that historic 2018 victory told its own story about how much that result means in the world game, and particularly to South Africans.
In an upcoming column for SA Rugby magazine, former Springbok captain Jean de Villiers perhaps best summed up just what this rivalry means to those on either side of the divide.
‘I grew up emulating my Springbok heroes whenever I played rugby with my mates in the backyard,’ De Villiers recounts. ‘As a kid, you’re always pretending that you need a try or kick to win the World Cup – and you’re always playing against South Africa’s greatest foes: the All Blacks.
‘I had the opportunity to chat to Jonah Lomu about this special rivalry when we were both at the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum in Cape Town back in 2015. Jonah said that the New Zealanders feel the same way. As kids, they grow up with the desire to test themselves against the Boks. It’s a rivalry that’s as much a part of their rugby culture as it’s a part of ours.’
This is what it’s all about, and it’s why victory over New Zealand will always be celebrated and treated with the utmost reverence in Springbok circles.
It’s victories over only such teams that move rugby’s tough guys to tears, and that can inspire superhuman efforts, as illustrated by Argentina’s heroic efforts last Saturday and the emotion that flowed from players and coaches afterwards.
Again, this is what it’s all about. And, in that context, no one should be celebrating the All Blacks’ waning powers (and certainly not when remembering that the Springboks were in their own doldrums as recently as 2017).
Over the past decade, the All Blacks have been an asset to the sport, and an asset to the Springboks.
I, for one, won’t be celebrating New Zealand’s recent struggles, but rather hoping for a healthy resurgence that’s ultimately good for the game.