Jolly good, All Blacks. Now can we get our competition back?
The Six Nations is a far more interesting tournament because no team completely eclipses the others
Everybody loves a winner, but only to a point. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing, and the All Blacks have become too much of a good thing for the long-term health of the Rugby Championship.
It is time for rivals to stand up to the All Blacks and make this tournament a competition again rather than the procession it has become. It isn’t healthy when three-quarters of its participants are squabbling for the minor places.
The annual tournament which starts this weekend is supposed to be the window that showcases the pinnacle of excellence in the southern hemisphere and, possibly, in the world game. But it’s no longer the case.
That was certainly true through the 1990s and for the first decade of the 2000s. The old Tri Nations was the most enthralling tournament at the time, relegating the Six Nations to a minor spectacle.The Rugby Championship still contains the world’s best team – the All Blacks – but it lacks the competitive edge that made it compelling. The Six Nations is now a far more interesting tournament because there is no team that completely eclipses the others.
The All Blacks are so far ahead of the competition in the Rugby Championship that a second-string New Zealand team would stand a good chance of winning the title.
In 33 Rugby Championship matches, the All Blacks have only lost twice, drawn once and have won five of the six titles since 2012. Their first defeat in the tournament in its current format happened at Ellis Park in 2014 when Bok flyhalf Pat Lambie landed a 55m penalty for a 27-25 win.
As uplifting and important as that result was for the Springboks, the context to the match was that the All Blacks had already secured the 2014 title a week earlier in Buenos Aires. The match was essentially a dead rubber, or as dead as any rugby contest between the All Blacks and the Springboks could be.
New Zealand’s other defeat occurred against Australia in 2015 when the tournament was shortened to a single round because it was a World Cup year. The match wasn’t a dead rubber but the All Blacks were firmly focused on retaining the World Cup later that year and the 2015 Rugby Championship only served as a warm-up that season.The All Blacks are currently on a 12-game Rugby Championship winning streak, which matches their record between 2012-2014 when they won their first 12 games before a draw in the opening match of the 2015 season. A win over the Wallabies in Sydney this weekend would see a record 13-match winning streak for NZ.
In the Rugby Championship the All Blacks boast an incredible 91% winning ratio, which is great for them but bad for the tournament. The Springboks have only won 14 of 33 matches (42%), the Wallabies 15 of 33 (45%) and the Pumas three of 33 (9%).
Obviously the inclusion of Argentina has boosted the All Blacks’ winning percentage as they’ve won all 11 meetings against the Pumas. But their winning percentage against the Boks and Wallabies has also gone up over the past six years.
When the competition was the Tri Nations, the All Blacks were still the most successful team, but they won 50 of 72 matches – 69%. That was more competitive and it made for a more compelling competition.
They still dominated, but at least the Wallabies won 31% of matches (11 out of 36) against the All Blacks compared to their Rugby Championship haul of one out of 11 (9%).
The Boks also managed 11 wins out of 36 in the Tri Nations against the All Blacks compared to their one out of 11 in the Championship.
Since Argentina joined the tournament in 2012, an extra layer of travel has been added for all teams, but the Springboks are the only team in the competition that plays three consecutive away games.
Travel has long been inequitable and it has worsened for the Boks in the current format. But NZ also have to travel and in five of the six years the final match of the competition has been a dead rubber for them, and yet they have managed to raise themselves and keep on winning.
The Rugby Championship delivers some spectacular games, but for its long-term health, the Springboks and Wallabies in particular need to get back to winning at least a third of their matches against the All Blacks.
The integrity of the competition demands it.