Bidwell: All Blacks fans settling for second best

12:31 pm on 26 November 2020

Opinion - The All Blacks are going to beat Argentina on Saturday. Heck, they might even annihilate them.

Tupou Vaa'i, Damian McKenzie and Ardie Savea after the loss to Argentina 2020.

The All Blacks react to losing to Argentina two weeks ago. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

And then what?

Will countless corners have been turned by coach Ian Foster and the team? Will every critic have been answered? Is Rugby World Cup success assured in three years' time?

These are strange times for the All Blacks. Seldom have they played so poorly and been beaten by such modest opposition.

The Australia team that beat them three weeks ago is years off its peak, assuming it ever gets there.

Argentina are only average. Their commitment and passion are unquestioned, but they're not actually very good.

And yet both sides were able to account for the All Blacks and comfortably so too. Worse than the results, from a New Zealand perspective, was that the players appeared utterly unprepared for what they encountered and therefore had no idea how to combat it.

That's done now. If you bleed black and blindly support everyone associated with the team, then you'll feel certain those games were aberrations.

If you feel Foster is an imposter and these results were entirely predictable, then you'll probably be experiencing a sense of vindication.

But what happens next?

The team will win this week, obviously. By 25 points, if not more.

They've been sufficiently shamed by those defeats and closed ranks accordingly. Captain Sam Cane has made his dislike for those who criticise the side very clear and there'll be an anger about Saturday's performance.

But then what?

Are people honestly satisfied with face-saving? What happened to the relentless pursuit of excellence that the All Blacks have always been associated with? When did we decide this team didn't need to be the benchmark for world rugby and New Zealand sport?

Rightly or wrongly, we get a lot of mileage out of the All Blacks. The haka, the ruthlessness, the sustained success; they all mean a lot to New Zealanders, especially those away from home.

All Blacks fans are settling for second-best right now, as are New Zealand Rugby (NZR).

There's a collective crossing of fingers that Foster and company can turn things around, rather than any certainty it will happen.

Look, you'll never go broke betting on the All Blacks. Whether you're investing a few bob with the TAB or staking your professional reputation on the team, you'll invariably end up a winner.

That's one of the issues here.

The rugby media don't bite the hand that feeds them. Those who toe the party line literally get taken out for dinner and drinks, they're made to feel valued and welcome and are rewarded with access and information that others can only dream of.

Instead of lobbying for Foster's sacking after the Argentina defeat or condemning Cane's comments, these folk have been calling for calm. They've urged us to stop and admire the performance of the Pumas and to appreciate the challenges and sacrifices being made by our brave All Blacks.

To literally pretend that rugby was the winner when Argentina were 25-15 victors over New Zealand in Sydney.

The All Blacks will now comfortably account for the Pumas this weekend and anyone who's been critical of the team will be told they have egg on their face, that they have no appreciation of rugby's nuances and that they owe everyone an apology. Class is permanent, never write off a champion, etcetera, etcetera.

The issue here isn't rugby. It's not really even who's being picked in the All Blacks each week and how they're actually playing.

This is about the difference between what we can see and what we're being told.

Cane might disagree, but New Zealand rugby fans are better-educated than most. They know a good player from a bad one, just as they can tell a fine coach from a failing one.

They don't, as Cane suggested, need to be in team meetings or at training to determine those things. Not that security would let any of us near the All Blacks anyway.

People are tired of being taken for fools and of being told what they have to understand. They're sick of being patronised.

They wouldn't accept it from politicians or bureaucrats, so why should they continually cop it from the rugby fraternity?

We've had enough and nothing that happens on Saturday night will change that.

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