Is The Gap Between The All Blacks & The Rest Of The Rugby World Gone?
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End of the era?
What a test match of rugby we witnessed over the weekend (take a guess which one we’re talking about). Ireland banished the demons of 2013, claiming a historic victory over the All Blacks with a 16-9 victory at the Aviva Stadium.
This victory will no doubt raise questions over the dominance of the back-to-back world champions in the rugby world, so we’re taking a look at whether the era of New Zealand dominance is finally at an end, and if the gulf has truly been closed.
You may recall that in August this year outspoken journalist Chris Rattue claimed that the All Blacks would be “unbeatable” at the 2019 World Cup, and that we “might as well hand over the Webb Ellis Cup now”. Well, recent test match form for the Kiwis (not including their victory over Japan) has certainly thrown that statement into question. South Africa claimed a victory in Wellington in the Rugby Championship, and it took an extra-time effort from New Zealand two weeks later to prevent-back-to back defeats to the Springboks.
Fast-forward to Twickenham, and a controversial TMO call denied England a victory over the All Blacks for the first time since 2012. And now, defeat to Ireland on Saturday. To put it simply – New Zealand could have been in a position where they had lost four of their last seven test matches. Of course, they didn’t, and have only lost two matches, but it’s clear that teams are pushing the All Blacks closer than ever before, and who’s to say that South Africa and England won’t learn from their mistakes in less than a year’s time?
Now onto the Ireland game in detail. After checking with statistician Stuart Farmer, we found out that the boys in green kept the All Blacks try-less yesterday for the first time since the Lion’s victory in the 2017 second test (Andy Farrell must go undercover in New Zealand’s training sessions…) and only the second time in 62 tests for New Zealand dating back to August 2014.
To put this into perspective, the last time New Zealand had not scored a test try, Jacob Stockdale had not yet played for Ireland, and James Ryan was probably just a foetus. This is some feat when you consider that New Zealand had scored 68 tries in 12 games this year prior to yesterday. The Irish defence forced New Zealand into making uncharacteristic mistakes, whether it be players binning the ball in an attempt to offload, or forcing the Kiwi attack to go sideward rather than forward.
Conceding 11 penalties throughout the match, New Zealand just seemed to run out of ideas to cross the whitewash. Had England beaten them last week, we would almost certainly be congratulating Ireland on officially becoming the number one ranked team in the world.
Rule out the All Blacks at your peril, but teams are certainly becoming less afraid of them as the test matches go on. Ireland are now clear contenders and potential favourites for the 2019 World Cup. England and South Africa are getting back on track, and with the likes of Wales and Scotland also vastly improving, there is a very good chance we could see the end of the All Black’s reign next year in Japan.
One thing is for sure though: I would not want to be in Italy’s shoes when they take on New Zealand this weekend!