Opinion: For a minute there, it looked as though the 2020 All Black season was going to finish on an ugly high shot that resulted in a yellow card that should have been a red, then a fight, Jamie Wall writes.
However, in an act that can be seen as hope for next year, the team pulled themselves together to score the best try of their campaign. It signified a bit of hope after a couple of weeks of intense scrutiny. Hope of what this team and this coaching staff can do when they get it right.
However, it can't be denied that it came at the end of a very ropey 80 minutes, at the end of an up and down year. We are used to stuff like this from the Warriors, but this is not the Warriors. This is the All Blacks. Winning all the time and being under pressure to do so is what makes them what they are, why there is so much riding on any time someone pulls on that jersey.
The All Blacks did do their primary job last night in thumping the Pumas 38-0 in Newcastle, but it didn't quite feel like the vengeance act it should have been. The Argentines, for all the talk of how they would play for their fallen demi-god Diego Maradona, sent out a team of greenhorns that faded fast in the 38 degree heat. They have been on the road now for the better part of two months, and were going to hit the wall at some stage.
Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala bullied their inexperienced opposites at the scrum, shoving them back into penalty territory. But despite the good work of the big men, the All Blacks could only muster 10 points in the first half.
In fact, it wasn't till Will Jordan got onto the field after an hour of play that the game was fully put to rest with his two rather jammy tries (that's no slight on Jordan, he has shown this year he's got a poacher's instinct and had a generally good all round game).
How Tyrel Lomax didn't get a red card is yet another mystery that only a World Rugby appointed referee will be able to give an answer to. That should have been the end of it, but one scrap later after Sam Cane had been hip tossed out of a ruck and the All Blacks had the ball back Jordan's brilliance ended up seeing Patrick Tuipulotu finish the season off next to the posts after a sweeping move.
Why isn’t that a red? pic.twitter.com/XsIxeFmksg— John Morgan™ (@Jay_P_M) November 28, 2020
Then, that was it. The All Blacks fly home today to spend two weeks in quarantine, followed by a holiday. Cane made mention that they are grateful for the support they have received post match, mindful of the backlash that greeted his comments a couple of weeks ago when he suggested that fans "might like to think they know a lot about the game of rugby but really they don't".
The irony of Cane's words is that more or less every rugby writer in the country was inclined to agree with him, but not because we think people are stupid. It's what he said next that was the clincher.
Cane was adamant that people didn't know because they only saw the 80 minutes that was on the field and nothing else which can be remedied, with a change in attitude toward their media dealings. Will that happen? It's incredibly unlikely.
If anything it'll be a lesson for Cane to never stray into the remotely interesting realm again, which is a serious shame as he is a genuinely interesting guy and has been the All Blacks' best player in a very trying year.
Plenty to chew on for 2021
So, next year? That's going to be a tough one too. Cane will need to be in top form in a Chiefs team that hasn't won a game since last March, to keep critics off his back. Ian Foster will have his critics no matter what happens, because there's plenty out there who don't think he should have ever had the job in the first place. Then there's their employers.
Someone at NZ Rugby hopefully would have looked on at the earlier game last night and been concerned. Despite flinging the doors open and letting everyone in for free, the Mitre 10 Cup final only pulled in about 10,000 people to Eden Park to watch Tasman defeat Auckland.
Cane called fans 'brutal' in their assessment of the All Blacks' shock loss to the Pumas two weeks ago, but the far more brutal thing fans can do is not show up and not care anymore.
This is what the All Blacks and NZ Rugby need to come to terms with. The game doesn't have the hold over the country that it used to. Times are changing - it's time to change with them.