9 Oct 2017

Rugby Championship: No tension, no drama, no fun

6:36 am on 9 October 2017

This year's Rugby Championship was about as exciting as watching grass grow. Joe Porter ponders what's gone wrong with the Southern Hemisphere's flagship competition.

Rieko Ioane celebrates scoring a try against South Africa in 2017, the last time the All Blacks played in Cape Town.

Are you not entertained? Well kind of Rieko, kind of. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Dreary, dull, error-riddled and erratic. The words I'd use to describe this year's tournament. There were two notable exceptions, yesterday's All Blacks/Springboks clash in Cape Town and the second Bledisloe test in Dunedin. Everything else was well, underwhelming.

As a journalist it's rather boring when the All Blacks are winning easily, when tests seem a forgone conclusion. That's why the Lions tour was so compelling. It had tension, drama, twists and turns. It had personality clashes and moments that turned matches. A battle of styles. A war of wills. It was bloody fantastic.

The Rugby Championship has been a stark comparison. Heaven and hell.

It started in Sydney with test number one. The build-up was overshadowed by Jerome Kaino's alleged extra-martial exploits, before the All Blacks predictably won. It certainly wasn't a test or an All Blacks performance to remember.

All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino.

All Blacks loose forward Jerome Kaino. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

On to Dunedin. A thoroughly entertaining fracas at Forsyth Barr, where the Wallabies played like the Wallabies of old. They were hard-nosed and belligerent, refusing to believe in the All Blacks aura. New Zealand were under real pressure. An imperfect All Blacks survived that uprising, coming from behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Fantastic, hope renewed.

Wallabies lock Rory Arnold chasing All Blacks flanker Liam Squire

Wallabies lock Rory Arnold chasing All Blacks flanker Liam Squire Photo: Photosport NZ

Argentina in New Plymouth next and apart from a Lomu-esque try from fleet footed flanker Vaea Fifita, there wasn't much to crow about.

Vaea Fifita is hugged by Sonny Bill Williams after scoring a try.

Vaea Fifita is hugged by Sonny Bill Williams after scoring a try. Photo: Photosport

Up the road to Albany to be greeted by the Springboks. The braai is burning and whispers spread that the old foe may have shaken off the shackles of their worst-ever season. Were they once again genuine contenders to the All Blacks throne. A record defeat later and the Springboks looked as spent as a salmon laying eggs.

All Blacks wing Nehe Milner Skudder.

Nehe Milner-Skudder scores against the Springboks. Photo: Photosport

Over to Buenos Aires as the All Blacks did some depth building. Another patchy win, another test best forgotten.

Oh and another Rugby Championship title tied up, their fifth in six years, though that was sealed even before the Pumas game, courtesy of a tepid draw between the Wallabies and South Africa.

Just when all hope appeared lost there came Cape Town. New Zealand and Springboks playing out a one-point thriller, restoring some credibility to a competition the All Blacks had sewn up with two games to spare (though let's be honest, while a thoroughly engaging encounter, the All Blacks [like in Dunedin] were far from their best).

Damian McKenzie scores in Cape Town.

Damian McKenzie scores in Cape Town. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2017 www.photosport.nz

So who's to blame for the lack of classic contests? The All Blacks are the least guilty party. Though as they seek to build depth and innovate their game plan, they're making more mistakes than their usual high standards would allow. The coaches are doing what they believe is best for the 2019 World Cup in Japan, and they know better than me, but at the moment the All Blacks are struggling to produce consistent performances across 80 minutes.

The real problem though lies with the Wallabies, who look as wobbly as ever, and the Springboks, who despite yesterday's spirited showing, seem to be lurching. One step forward, two steps backwards.

To sum it up, Australian rugby is in a losing battle against Aussie rules and rugby league, and don't have enough home-grown talent. South Africa has too many top players playing overseas and has spread their talent too thinly at Super Rugby level. Politics also plays a large role in South African rugby, but best we don't open that can of worms.

The Rugby Championship is supposed to be the cream of the crop, where the world's best teams do battle for to be crowned the kings of the South.

It's supposed to be the competition that puts the North's Six Nations to shame; a competition which is supposed to help the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks maintain their dominance of the world game. That's no longer true.

Will there soon come a time where the Rugby Championship is used to test combinations and the end of year tour's are where the top All Black sides are picked?

The All Blacks' main rivals now lie in the Northern Hemisphere and playing ever weakening Wallaby and Springbok teams won't help the world champions maintain their ascendancy.

For the All Blacks and rugby's sake I really hope the Occas and Saffas get it together.


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