Chris Rattue: Humiliated All Blacks have lost their aura

Chris Rattue, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sunday, 11 August 2019, 1:34PM
New Zealand players perform the Haka before their rugby union test match against Australia. (Photo / AP)
New Zealand players perform the Haka before their rugby union test match against Australia. (Photo / AP)

The All Blacks lost something they may never fully get back after being humiliated by a stunning Wallabies performance in Perth.

They will always be respected, always have a nursery of remarkable talent, but the intimidating aura which has served them so well fell with an almighty thud in an exhilarating test match.

The fear factor is largely gone, there is a very good chance that the Webb Ellis Cup will follow and the sort of long domination which the incomparable Richie McCaw inspired may well have disappeared forever.

It has been obvious for some time that the All Blacks have fallen back into a peloton which will chase the World Cup in Japan this year. The yellow jersey was ripped up once and for all by men in yellow jerseys on Saturday night.

Father Time is running past Ben Smith like Marika Koroibete can. Rieko Ioane is showboating. TJ Perenara's poor 2015 World Cup is starting to pop back into the memory. None of the All Black forwards are at their peak, and even crowd favourite Ardie Savea blotted his copy book in Perth.

Success can breed success, but it can also take the edge of desperation.

And yet coach Steve Hansen and his cohorts are still searching for magic bullets, dreaming of ruling again. Better, maybe, to dial back the ambition and confusing complexities, go back to some solid theories, and build a side around combinations.

The trouble being that it's probably too late.

The Wallabies were stunning, and what stood out was their confidence. They looked at that All Black lineup, checked out the haka, and thought we'll have a bit of that. No problem. And it wasn't.

I've got no idea whether the red card against Scott Barrett was fair or not. In terms of the rules, maybe it was. In terms of how the game is played, maybe it wasn't.

There are grey areas in the football codes and if you put yourself in a bad positon, as Barrett did, then the consequences are what they are.

But what counts - when you look at the World Cup ramifications - is that what some deemed a reluctance by referees to make big calls against the current world champs has been diluted. And those big calls could decide this world tournament, as rugby wrestles with safety rules.

Two red cards in two years after a half century when no All Black was sent off tells a story. So that's another weapon gone.

What you are left with is an All Black team which is one of the main contenders while Australia must now be seen as a genuine threat.

The moment which gave the game away in Perth arrived when Savea shoved a prone Michael Hooper from behind, forcing his head into the ground.

It was an act of arrogance, one that could only make the All Blacks' task even harder. Those great All Black World Cup loose forwards of not long ago, McCaw and Jerome Kaino, didn't bother with pointless cheap shots, an attitude which worked. Savea's petulance revealed an All Black team which feels threatened and is frustrated by mounting failures.

Get used to it. The rugby world is slowly being re-shaped.

Ireland has broken the All Black hoodoo, and a similar Welsh break through can't be far away. The Springboks, beaten 57 – 0 not long ago, are finding regular success in New Zealand.

A golden generation of extraordinary All Black players is at an end, while other countries are far better organised on the field even if the individual talent is still comparatively moderate.

We were spoilt by McCaw's amazing All Blacks, but nothing lasts forever.

It is something that the All Black coaches and selectors are struggling to recognise, to their cost. There's no point in trying to build a mansion when you've only got a barrow load of bricks. Better to build a really good house, and take it from there.

The Bledisloe Cup and a staggering winning run at Eden Park now go on the line, and who could begrudge Australia a triumph given how comprehensive their Perth victory was. And while it would hurt, an Australian rugby revival can only be good for the game overall.

For All Black fans, it may well get a bit worse, before it gets slightly better.