Gifford: Has All Blacks aura gone? Yeah, right

PHIL GIFFORD
Last updated 05:07 31/08/2014
All Blacks
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RIDICULOUS NOTION: Any suggestion the All Blacks had lost their "aura" was well and truly put to bed during their demolition of the Wallabies in Auckland.

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OPINION: It will have come as no surprise to those who know him that Andrew Mehrtens was the only pundit honest enough to apologise for getting it wrong about the potential demise of the All Blacks.

Interestingly the perpetual doomsayers can't quite bring themselves to say the massacre at Eden Park was a commanding All Black performance and leave it at that.

Let's look at some of the theories that were advanced before and after the scrappy, ugly draw in Sydney.

On the completely fruit loop side there was the idea that the demise of the Black Ferns at the women's world cup, and the under-20 side not being world champions anymore somehow dented the mystique of the All Blacks.

Let's move on to the apparently serious suggestion that in the wet in Sydney we saw how Brodie Rettalick and Sam Whitelock are (a) too much alike and (b) not in the same class as Robin Brooke and Ian Jones.

Having covered at close hand the careers of Brooke and Jones I can vouch for the fact they were fantastic footballers, but, to be honest, the concept of having one tough, hard nut (Booke) and one soaring athlete (Jones) goes out the window when Rettalick and Whitelock each cover both bases.

We all like to live in the past at times, but when new players emerge who are as good as our current locks, it's time to take off the rose coloured retro specs and see what's in front of your eyes.

More unpleasant is a thread that condemns Steve Hansen's All Blacks as constrained in their tactics ("Crusader-like" used here as a distasteful description), with only the return of Wayne Smith likely to return them to full attacking bloom.

Under Hansen the All Blacks have so far played 33 games, won 30, drawn two and lost just one.

Ignored by the critics who say they played dull, rugby for this startling record are games like the 2013 test in Sydney (six tries) or the 2013 test in Johannesburg the same year (five tries), or the stunning attacking that saw France thrashed 30-0, again in 2013.

Are the whiners memories that short they forget what happened only last year? Whatever Hansen and his coaching team have done, the idea they've cowed players like Ben Smith, Julian Savea and Aaron Smith into playing tight fisted, risk free rugby is surely disproven by anyone watching with both eyes open.

The "Richie's a cheat" and "the ref always lets the All Blacks away with gift tries" is so stale, dull and boring now let's just move on, pausing only to note that the Cory Jane hit on Israel Falau was at worst a 50/50 call (his arm first made contact below the shoulders) and at best legitimate.

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And by the way it was Aaron Smith's failed tackle on Michael Hooper, not McCaw's, that led to Hooper's try at Eden Park, but let's not let reality interfere with pet theories that McCaw, like the All Blacks, has lost his mojo.

So where, in what might be called the real world, does the rubbishy performance in Sydney, and the brilliance of much of the display at Eden Park leave the All Blacks?

Where they've been since the world cup, the best in the world.

Hindsight may yet show that the shaky effort in Sydney could be a blessing. The All Blacks didn't eke out a draw because the players are too old, opponents aren't spooked any more, or the referees have finally caught onto their evil ways.

Put simply, Australia got so close because the All Black forwards, in conditions where it could not have counted for more, lacked fierce, total commitment.

Oddly, considering sports psychologists will usually say players should only feed off positive emotions, All Blacks have succeeded for more than a century working off fear of failure.

They looked sick and said they felt hollow after Sydney. It's not a bad mental space to remember, and draw on, when they face bigger challenges in the world cup next year.

- Sunday Star Times

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