Heads may roll as the All Blacks empire begins to crumble

Codie Taylor and Aaron Smith after the All Blacks 25-18 loss to Argentina in the Rugby Championship game in Christchurch on August 27, 2022. (Photosport Photo by John Davidson)

Jamie Wall
Christchurch, August 28, 2022

Say it out loud: two wins, four losses so far this year.

It is at this point that you could probably put together an entire reaction piece, simply by cutting and pasting bits from the others that have been done so far this season. Unwanted history, the acceptance of mediocrity, scrutiny on the wider group – and so on.

It should not be this way. The Pumas’ 25-18 win was their first against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil, but even the details of how they did it can be cropped from their historic first-ever win two years ago.

All Blacks bereft of ideas

The score line was almost the same, as was the fact that the Argentines showed up ready to execute a well-thought-out game plan against an All Blacks team that was bereft of ideas and intent. Instead of Nicolás Sánchez banging kicks over from everywhere, it was Emiliano Boffelli. One well-taken try and a patient desire to wait for the All Blacks to infringe (which they did far too often) was simply what the Pumas thought they had to do.

And that was what it took. It was clear after the hour mark that it would take a radical shift for the Pumas to lose the game, their defence bending but not breaking and waiting to pounce on loose tackle ball.

Even noted hothead Tomas Lavanini kept his emotions in check, save for one very well-timed outburst to remind the All Blacks that they had just given the ball away yet again.

While it was obviously very special for Pablo Matera, it is worth remembering that he had not only beaten the All Blacks in 2020 but an awful lot of their players earlier this year during his stint with the Crusaders. One of his coaches, there was none other than Jason Ryan, so it is hard not to think that Matera did not have a reasonably clear idea of what was coming at him, and his Pumas forward pack.

As for the All Blacks, it is just hard to know where to start because they do not even seem to know that themselves. They have managed to snap their habit of conceding tries in the first five minutes of games but have annoyingly retained the other habit of giving away stupid penalties and botching key set pieces. That was really the only fault of the Argentineans, their lineout was comical at times and the scrum went backwards.

But the All Blacks could not do anything to make them pay for it. Another home test loss, which now means they have dropped three tests in a row in New Zealand for the first time.

All Blacks backroom staff: Coach Ian Foster, Assistant Coach John Plumtree, Mental Skills Coach Gilbert Enoka and Manager Darren Shands (Photosport Photo)

Disappearing goodwill

The heart-warming homecoming narrative that was supposed to belong to Richie Mo’unga ended up being hastily repurposed for Pumas Assistant Coach David Kidwell, who was last seen coaching in New Zealand when he was in charge of the Kiwis’ ill-fated 2017 Rugby League World Cup campaign. It was a sweet moment for the hard-hitting former second rower, but also for the passionate Michael Cheika, who spent years having to deal with hidings handed out by the All Blacks when he was in charge of the Wallabies.

The big question now needs to be posed to the New Zealand Rugby board, who has hastily backed Ian Foster through to the World Cup next year, about what they can do about this mess. Whatever the goodwill that flowed in their direction after the Ellis Park win has quickly evaporated after yet another history-making loss. It’s clear now that the PR job to cash in on that (admittedly very good) win now seems like a sticking plaster over a gaping gunshot wound.

The All Blacks taking pictures with fans after the game was a strange sight, something that is acceptable for the children in attendance but not something you want to be shown on TV after a performance like that. It is this lack of attention to detail that cuts, along with the excuses, the malaise of simply knowing the All Blacks are probably going to lose – it is making it feel like we are talking about the Warriors.

Forget about the World Cup, focus on the here and now. Otherwise, the All Black brand is going to be tarnished with the smear of failure forever – and given New Zealand Rugby has put all their chips on them, they had better do something about it, fast.

In an earlier dispatch, Jamie Wall wrote:

New Zealand Rugby’s backroom staff must face the fire for the All Black’s recent sub-par performances and the apparent lack of cohesion within the team.

“An All Black Empire is crumbling!” – the words that rang out at full time from radio commentator Elliott Smith’s call of the last defeat certainly were dramatic, that is for sure. But Smith’s on-point script for what would happen if the All Blacks slumped to a series loss to Ireland was not just about what was happening on the field. He knew, along with everyone else in the Sky Stadium media box that night, that this fall was just as much about the way the team was run, handled and promoted as it was about scrums and lineouts.

This was, of course, around 12 hours before the now infamous no-show by Ian Foster at the traditional Sunday press conference. It is important to note that this is not the first time this has happened, even within the current regime.

Poor media relations

On last season’s disastrous Northern Hemisphere, after demanding the media be available to attend Zoom calls at 6 am three times a week, a press conference on Monday (also a public holiday) before the test against Wales was abruptly called off. No apology or explanation was ever given. The entire media experience on that tour was pretty abysmal though – even by All Black standards. More or less every excuse was made to keep the Zoom calls to the absolute minimum time, with mythical bus journeys blamed for the need to hit the red Leave button.

The irony that Zoom calls should have been making them more accessible rather than less (you can take a laptop on a bus, or anywhere for that matter) was something the All Blacks were oblivious to.

Sir Steve Hansen ducked his responsibilities after the largest defeat of his tenure, in 2019 in Perth. After the Wallabies had handed the All Blacks a 47-29 spanking the night before, the 9 am call time was mysteriously moved to 10 am, then 11 am, then once media arrived at the hotel Hansen was nowhere to be seen. The fact that the flight back to Auckland was at 1 pm was too much of a coincidence.

While All Black media relations have been generally poor since, well, forever, the empire within should be the one under the most scrutiny. Enough has been said about Ian Foster, mainly because it is just a louder rendition of what was being said before. The same goes for his coaching staff. John Plumtree’s calls for more physicality from the All Black forwards have become a running joke, the circumstances around how NZ Rugby paid out Welsh club Scarlets to get Brad Mooar out of his contract is now even more laughable, while Andrew Strawbridge’s addition to the coaching team hasn’t added anything. Anything good, anyway.

Jamie Wall is Sports Writer at Radio New Zealand. The above Report and pictures have been published under a special agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

Share this story

Related Stories

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Indian Newslink

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement