One of New Zealand’s most prominent rugby writers has declared the Springboks the best team on the planet & one of the finest All Blacks midfielders has applauded the class of the Springboks backs. It all makes for a thrilling build-up to the 100th Test between the two teams, writes Mark Keohane.
The world champion Springboks have the attention of the New Zealand rugby media, the All Blacks coaches and most significantly the All Blacks players. There is an acknowledgement that, for now, the Boks lead the way and the All Blacks are the hunters.
It is unfamiliar territory for the men in black, who owned international rugby from 2011 to 2017 and remarkably won 90 percent of their Test matches and back-to-back World Cups in Auckland and in London.
The All Blacks, post the 2019 Rugby World Cup, haven’t played the Springboks because of Covid. In that time, under the new coach Ian Foster, the All Blacks have won eight, drawn one and lost two Test matches. They lost for the first time in their history to Argentina in 2020 and also lost to the Wallabies in Australia and drew a Test with the Wallabies. They balanced the no results in those those three Tests with three convincing wins against the Wallabies (twice) and Pumas. In 2021, they’ve brushed aside the challenge of Tonga, Fiji (twice) and Australia (twice).
Foster, earlier this week appointed as All Blacks coach until the completion of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, has spoken of the improvements of the All Blacks in the past 12 months and he has said a ‘special squad’ is being nurtured and developed.
The jury is out on Foster’s All Blacks, simply because of who they haven’t played, which includes the Springboks, England, Wales, Ireland and France – all teams with a pack that could unsettle and trouble the All Blacks.
Hinton has written about all the brilliant professional All Blacks teams and he has seen the occasional world-beating Springboks, Ireland and England team knock over the All Blacks.
He is as good a judge on the merits of the Springboks as you will get and in his analysis of Foster’s reappointment, he stated emphatically that it was the match against the Boks in Townsville on 25th September that would give a real-time measure of how Foster’s All Blacks are tracking two years out from the World Cup.
Hinton expressed surprise that Foster’s contract was extended to the World Cup prior to the two Tests against the Springboks, although he didn’t feel it was the wrong decision and was probably the fairest way of acknowledging Foster and his Covid-related All Blacks challenges in the past 18 months.
‘For starters, why it has been made before the looming two tests against the undisputed best side on the planet (the Springboks) is somewhat of a mystery. Wait a month and they would have had the perfect measuring stick by which to assess Foster’s progress since he took over the top job,’ wrote Hinton on Stuff.co.nz
‘What was the rush? Did this deal have to be done before the All Blacks hit the road for the rest of their 2021 programme? The sniff test certainly suggests so.
So what’s the risk, you might ask?
‘Foster has effectively been extended on the strength of having the wood over what appears to be an historically weak Wallabies outfit. He also lost to Argentina for the first time in his team’s history (splitting the two tests against the Pumas in 2020) and has seen off a spirited Fiji outfit this year with hardly what you would term authority.
‘All of which has made the art of assessment a difficult one. The All Blacks, through no fault of their own, haven’t played any of the other top five sides in the world since Foster took charge in the wake of the failed 2019 World Cup campaign, for which he was an assistant coach.’
Two-time World Cup-winning centre Conrad Smith, in praising Springboks centre Lukhanyo Am’s form in 2021, also described the Boks backline as ‘world class’ and in addition to Am made mention of the qualities of Willie le Roux, Damian de Allende and Cheslin Kolbe.
Conrad Smith interview with World Rugby on Springboks