Is All Blacks domination good for rugby?

Sport360 staff 04:40 19/09/2016
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Simply the best: Ben Smith and New Zealand eased past South Africa this weekend.

It was just another routine win for the All Blacks, easing past South Africa 41-13 to take their seasonal tally to 7-0.

That the Springboks, just as Wales, Australia and Argentina before them, are supposed to be among the best in the world did not matter. They were not given a sniff as New Zealand eased through the gears in the second half. In truth, they never needed to find fourth yet alone fifth.

Today’s #360debate asks: Is the All Blacks domination of rugby good for the sport?

Matt Jones, reporter, says YES

The current All Blacks side is arguably the best that has ever lived, so to claim their brilliance is bad for rugby is ludicrous.

Although their production line has always provided a constant stream of quality, many believed, finally, their stranglehold would come under heavy fire following the Rugby World Cup.

They became the most decorated country ever with a third Webb Ellis Cup to stand alone, ahead of fellow southern hemisphere giants Australia and South Africa. A raft of retirements followed, legends taking off the hallowed black jersey for the final time, and the ensuing months were supposed to be ones of difficult re-adjustment.

Instead, Steve Hansen’s side racked up 290 points and seven wins – a rate of 41 points per game – and have just secured a 14th Rugby Championship title in 21 years.

Rather than a hindrance, their brilliance is something to strive for, and should simply be applauded. The ease with which Sam Cane, Beauden Barrett, Ryan Crotty and Malakai Fekitoa have fitted into the voids left by legends Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith has been seamless.

But it’s not just the end result and margin on the scoreboard, it’s the way they’re playing the game that resonates beyond their success on the field. How many kids are watching what Barrett, Ben Smith and Julian Savea do with the ball and feel inspired to try and follow them? The off-loads, running lines and the speed at which the ball is passed along the backs is exhilarating.

Plus the higher they raise the bar, the better their opposition needs to get. In theory, raising the overall standards of rugby. But the question is also rendered redundant by the poor form of the rest of the elite.

It’s not that this Kiwi crop is untouchable, but right now their opponents simply aren’t up to scratch.

There’s no way the All Blacks can be blamed for maintaining their ridiculously high standards in the face of such adversity while the rest are failing to raise theirs.

James Piercy, deputy editor, says NO

Rugby Union remains a largely exclusive sport and although the current World Rugby ratings stretch to 72 nations, essentially only 10 are truly relevant: the four teams that make up the Rugby Championship and the Six Nations (which is being extremely kind to Italy).

With the exception of South Africa emerging from apartheid in 1992, the Azzurri swelling the northern hemisphere competition to a sextet in 2000 and Argentina joining the southern equivalent in 2012, that figure has largely stayed the same for approximately six decades.

Although the game is played across all four corners of the globe, it remains largely exclusive. So when a worldwide team sport lacks the variation of, to use the obvious example, football – where the world champions of 10 years ago are barely ranked inside the planet’s top 15 sides – what it fundamentally does not need to maintain relevance in a wider context is predictability.

New Zealand are so good, they can play at approximately 75 per cent and still defeat the world’s fourth-best team by 28 points, wrapping the contest up before 60 minutes.

There is much to marvel about how the All Blacks go about their business but there is little in the way of competition which dampens its long-term appeal.

Given the sport is grappling with overly complex rules, concussions, the spectre of PEDs and a lack of inclusion due to the prerequisute of having to be an athletic freak to properly take up the game, the absolute last thing it needs is for matches between top-level sides to be boring.

It’s not the All Blacks fault and the federations of South Africa, Australia, England pre-Eddie Jones and France should bear some responsibility as their own mismanagement, poor governance and decision-making has helped contribute to the situation.

But the gap is only widening and unless the chasing pack dramatically improve, that figure of 10 relevant teams won’t grow, it’ll shrink to just one.

How can that be good for rugby union?

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#360view: Coetzee needs time to rebuild Springboks

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Allister Coetzee.

If you’re looking for symbolism from the All Blacks’ crushing 41-13 win over South Africa in Christchurch on Saturday, then witness Ardie Savea’s try on 55 minutes.

The 22-year-old flanker, making his first international start, collects Aaron Smith’s off-loan and powers over for a debut score with two Springboks – Eben Etzebeth and Faf de Klerk hanging onto his back.

All three represent the present and future of their respective countries but the end result perfectly illustrated the gulf that exists.

Whereas the world champions have seamlessly filled the void of losing iconic figures Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu, the Boks are still working out how to compensate for the loss of leaders Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Jean de Villiers.

As coach Allister Coetzee bluntly concluded, New Zealand’s transition “has been very, very good, unlike in our case”.  Those assigned with forming the bedrock of the side – fly-half Elton Jantjies, scrum-half De Klerk, full-back Johan Goosen and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit hold just 41 caps between them. And it’s shown, with Coetzee adding, “maybe some players are not ready for this level yet.”

When Coetzee took over in April, he had a number of challenges to deal with in order to bring back the culture of how rugby is perceived in South Africa; focusing on restoring Springbok traditions such as the set piece and a granite-like defence to give the team an identity.

He hasn’t enjoyed much of a honeymoon period, though, as criticism has already centered around his defensive strategy similar, which eerily similar to the one he deployed with the Stormers for five seasons. If teams kick over the top, for example, then the defensive line can be easily breached.

A recurring problem against Argentina and Australia in their previous games was the habit of spreading the ball wide without creating any space. With 10 minutes to go against Australia in Brisbane last week, they were in sight of victory at 17-23, but a lack of experience and confidence saw them cough up possession when a try seemed inevitable.

Captain Adriaan Strauss should be telling his team-mates to hold on to the ball, play through the phases and do the simple things right under pressure. This all comes with experience as a collective unit, and game time against strong opposition is the only way to learn and rectify such mistakes.

The drop in performance over the last 12 months shouldn’t call for alarm bells just yet. Against the All Blacks they showed encouraging signs of improvement, but their overall decision-making, coupled with some inexcusable individual mistakes are restricting their position on the scoreboard.

When they move the ball through the middle of the field they looked dangerous with Etzebeth and Du Toit fending off opponents and making valuable yards. In attack, Bryan Habana and Goosen produce flashes of excellence but a team cannot capitalise on individual magic and need strong support runners outside the ball to threaten the opposition line.

From a leadership point of view, when Strauss were replaced after 45 minutes, they lost experience in the pack, and this led to the All Blacks scoring four tries in the last 30 minutes. In a situation like this, Etzebeth needs to prove why he is the best No4 in the world. He has 51 caps and has developed into an established figure after four years in a Boks jersey.

As the saying goes, “true leaders aren’t born, they’re grown over time” and the Rugby Championship is a platform for Coetzee’s inexperienced figureheads to improve. If they can focus on the traditional strengths and make their gameplan clearer, they can start to compete and evolve their attacking and defensive structures.

Eventually, they’ll close the gap on New Zealand, but for now they must build a combative gameplan and allow players to develop.

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NZ surge past Pumas, Australia beat SA

Sport360 staff 17:13 10/09/2016

New Zealand overcame a spirited challenge from revitalised Argentina to win 57-22 in Hamilton.

Santiago Cordero’s second-minute opener and a slew of points from Nicolas Sanchez stunned the All Blacks but they rallied to turn the tables.

Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty grabbed two tries apiece at the Waikato Stadium while a touchdown and six conversions from Beauden Barrett boosted New Zealand towards their 14th-straight win.

Argentina, buoyed by their recent victory over South Africa, took an early lead which they would not surrender until late in the half.

Martin Landajo’s break in the second minute enabled Cordero to give the Pumas a dream start, with Sanchez converting.

Julian Savea and Barrett soon dragged New Zealand level with a converted try, but Sanchez’s boot remained hot and two penalties boosted Argentina 13-7 ahead before Ben Smith dotted down thanks to Aaron Smith’s skip pass in the 23rd minute.

Barrett converted before Sanchez’s third penalty kept the Pumas’ noses in front, however briefly.

On 32 minutes Israel Dagg edged the hosts in front with a penalty and it was not long before Ben Smith put in a grubber kick for Barrett to grab seven more points with his converted try.

Another Sanchez penalty darkened the All Blacks’ mood, but they led 24-19 at the interval.

Sanchez returned to the pitch to boot three more points – a false dawn for the tourists as New Zealand promptly ran riot with two tries from Crotty and one from Charlie Faumuina.

Beauden’s conversions took the score to 45-22 by the 63rd minute and the home advantage extended to 30 points when Ben Smith raced under the posts for a try converted by Aaron Cruden.

Argentina were not able to escape without further punishment as Luke Romano ran in the All Blacks’ eighth try, which Cruden could not convert.

Elsewhere, Australia beat South Africa 23-17 in wet Brisbane to earn their first win in this year’s Rugby Championship.

The holders had the misfortune of playing world champions New Zealand in their first two games and, having lost both heavily, had to beat the Springboks to avoid being also-rans.

The visitors led 14-3 after 18 minutes, but Australia made it 13-14 at half-time and took a decisive nine-point advantage on 61 minutes.

Michael Cheika’s men, for whom inside centre Bernard Foley scored 18 points, could have won by more had it not been for several mistakes in attacking positions.

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