In a week that there is no South African Rainbow Cup and the Springboks extended squad is in an alignment camp, the focus is on the beauty in New Zealand rugby and the absence of the beast among the men in black.
The All Blacks, blessed with Richie Mo’unga and magnificent outside backs, still don’t have a pack to command respect in Test rugby. The All Blacks were physically embarrassed by England in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. Nothing since that humiliation has changed in New Zealand rugby’s forward fortunes.
The biggest series in Test rugby this season is the world champion Springboks against the British & Irish Lions.
It is going to be a physical showdown of epic proportions and anyone watching this series and anything involving the All Blacks at the same time will think they are watching two different sporting codes.
The All Blacks will look sensational in destroying Fiji and Tonga. Their players will look as dazzling as the Kiwis have in the TransTasman competition, in which the Australian five franchises have lost all 10 matches in the first two rounds.
It is an international schedule that does nothing for the All Blacks and certainly doesn’t change the view that the All Blacks, so spoilt in the Richie McCaw era, don’t have a pack of forwards to match the abundance of talent among their backs.
Gregor Paul, New Zealand Herald’s chief rugby writer and among the most insightful in the New Zealand rugby landscape, has whistled this tune all year.
Paul, when praising the talents of Mo’unga and the All Blacks flyhalf dilemma of Mo’unga or Beauden Barrett, wrote that who to play at No 10 for the All Blacks was the least of New Zealand rugby’s problems. Paul wrote the real problem was up front.
He accurately wrote that whipping the Aussies in a TransTasman competition and smashing the Wallabies in Test matches did nothing to fix the glaring problems of every one of the All Blacks most recent six defeats and two draws against teams who front with a power pack and physically that has throttled the All Blacks.
The Springboks, with a win and a draw in four Tests, have troubled the All Blacks and England and Argentina bullied the All Blacks and Ireland were too physical in winning twice.
McCaw in the decade of All Blacks brilliance led an All Blacks pack that, player for player, led the way in each position. The Mighty McCaw’s All Blacks rarely took a step back.
It isn’t the case at the moment.
I admire the razzle and dazzle of New Zealand’s backs and ball in hand play, but it is obvious there are serious player limitations up front.
Those who once ruled are a year or three older or gone and, among the loose-forwards, there isn’t the quality of McCaw, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read.
There is an eternity until the Springboks play the All Blacks in the Rugby Championship in October. Test number 100 between the two countries will be played in Dunedin and number 101 is at Auckland’s Eden Park.
The home draw is very favourable for New Zealand and because of Covid the All Blacks are the biggest beneficiaries in playing all but two Test matches at home.
The Springboks and Argentina will spend most of their time in the Championship away from home, so this season may not be the full measure, but what is clear is that New Zealand won’t know a real rugby battle until they front the forward power of the Springboks and the Pumas.
For now, New Zealanders must enjoy the skills and blissful beauty of how the Kiwis will play against the awful Aussies in the TransTasman.
But, in terms of Test match preparation, the dour but damn delightful arm wrestle in the Rainbow Cup and in the warm-up Tests against Georgia is what will best prepare South Africa’s players for the challenge of the British & Irish Lions.
Five minutes of England brutality against the All Blacks in 19-7 RWC semi-final in 2019.
The Springboks and All Blacks – rugby’s greatest rivalry
99: The All Blacks and South Africa have met 99 times in Test matches with the All Blacks winning 59 matches, South Africa winning 36 matches and four matches being drawn.
57: The All Blacks highest score and winning margin against South Africa was achieved in the 57-0 victory at Albany in 2017.
255: Dan Carter has scored the most of all-time with 255 points against South Africa.
10: Christian Cullen leads the all-time All Blacks try-scoring against South Africa with 10 tries. Bryan Habana sits atop the all-time list for South Africa with eight tries against New Zealand.
5: The All Blacks and South Africa have met five times at the Rugby World Cup (1995, 1999, 2003, 2015 & 2019) with the All Blacks winning three times and the Boks twice.
139: Morne Steyn has scored the most points by a South African player against the All Blacks with 139 points. Of current players, Handre Pollard leads the point scoring with 77 points against the All Blacks.
6: The All Blacks and South Africa have won six Rugby World Cup titles between them out of the nine Rugby World Cup tournaments played since 1987 (All Blacks won in 1987, 2011, 2015, South Africa won in 1995, 2007, 2019).
11: A remarkable 11 tries were scored in South Africa’s 36-34 victory against the All Blacks in 2018. The All Blacks scored six tries to South Africa’s five. The boot of Handre Pollard proved the difference in the match with four conversions and a penalty compared to just two conversions by the All Blacks.
68: It took the All Blacks 68-years to secure their first series win on South African soil. The All Blacks failed to beat South Africa away from home in 1928, 1949, 1960, 1970 and 1976 before finally beating South Africa 2-1 in 1996.
*The first ever Test between the two was played in Dunedin in 1921 . The All Blacks won 13-15. The 100th Test, 100 years later, will also be played in Dunedin.