18 Aug 2017

All Blacks on a hiding to nothing?

5:40 pm on 18 August 2017

Sports Call - The Rugby Championship kicks off this weekend but it seems about as interesting as a magician on the radio.

The All Blacks play the Wallabies in Sydney tomorrow night in what also doubles as the opening Bledisloe Cup test.

But are the All Blacks on a hiding to nothing this series?

The All Blacks and the Lions shared the spoils.

The All Blacks and the Lions shared the spoils. Photo: Photosport

They need to win decisively after what will go down as a disappointing drawn series against the British and Irish Lions, where they were expected to win but were unable to cope with the Lions suffocating defence.

The Lions refused to let the All Blacks play an expansive game and the Wallabies, South Africans and Pumas will no doubt have been taking copious notes and be looking to copy that approach.

While other teams may see the system as a blueprint for how to play against the world champions, first five Beauden Barrett said this week the All Blacks had already come up with ways of exploiting the space it can offer.

How much freedom to run will Beauden Barrett have against the Wallabies?

How much freedom to run will Beauden Barrett have against the Wallabies? Photo: Photosport

"Some teams in Super Rugby adopted that style of defence too, and we do understand it puts the person with the ball under a bit more pressure," Barrett said.

"But ... there are opportunities elsewhere," he said.

The question though is whether any of those sides have the ability and discipline to be as effective.

Of their 15 tests last year the Wallabies won just six.

This year hasn't been much better. There have been wins over Fiji and Italy, with a loss to Scotland.

The Springboks aren't much better. Yes, they enjoyed a 3-nil series win over France in June.

But it was only last November that they were humbled by Wales, Italy and England.

The month before that they lost 57-15 to the All Blacks.

In a column for the Super Sport website in South Africa, journalist Brenden Nel said "the Boks still have a way to go, (but) the damage inflicted by the two Lions' brands on the Kiwi dominance is an encouraging sign.

"It may drive the New Zealanders mad to know they cannot simply accept victory as a given, no matter how good they have been in the past.'

He's right. Victory is no longer a given.

As bitter as the pill may be to swallow Lions coach Warren Gatland got one over Hansen and co and the All Blacks coach won't be about to let that happen again.

Another factor too is that the Wallabies, Springboks and Argentina simply aren't in the same league as the Lions.

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika

Can Wallabies coach Michael Cheika get one over Steve Hansen? Photo: Photosport

Australian rugby is at its nadir.

None of the Australian Super rugby side's managed to chalk up a win over a New Zealand opponent in 26 matches this season.

Now Super Rugby form doesn't automatically transfer into test results, but not a single win from 26 games? That has to hurt.

On top of that, eight players in the Wallabies won't know just where they'll be playing their Super Rugby next year, after the Australian Rugby Union axed the Perth based Western Force from the competition - although that decision is now being appealed.

The All Blacks are caught between a rock and a hard place.

They need to win and win convincingly.

If they can't see off Australian and South African sides that are far from their peak, it'll only add to the suggestion that the All Blacks aren't the side they have been for the past few years.

Perhaps the re-ignition of the Aaron Smith sex scandal has added a little spice to the competition after all.