All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was all class in victory, defeat and in a draw.

The All Blacks will be stronger in their 2019 World Cup defence because of the drawn three-Test series against the British and Irish Lions. Hansen, whose winning record as All Blacks head coach is 90 percent, recognised the wins for the All Blacks despite the series being drawn.

Social media’s pitchfork mentality has focused on the brilliance of the Lions and the vulnerability of the world champion All Blacks.

I don’t quite get that because there wasn’t a series winner and in the context of three Tests the All Blacks scored more points and more tries than a Lions squad promoted as being the best to ever be assembled in the professional era.

If this Lions squad, benefitting from the best of four countries, is that good, then what does it say about the All Blacks?

Hansen, after the first Test win, said the match was closer than a 15-point differential. He didn’t look for excuses when his team lost the second Test to a contentious 77th minute penalty, despite playing with 14 men for 50 minutes.

He didn’t moan when the All Blacks were robbed of the chance to win the third Test in the last minute with a penalty that was inexplicably overturned by the same referee who ruled the penalty to New Zealand.

The Lions have been anointed as the moral victors, even though the series was drawn.

Again, what to make of the ease with which a world rugby audience wants to rubbish the quality of a team that didn’t lose the series but equally can’t praise enough the team that didn’t win the series?

The All Blacks created enough opportunities to win the third Test in Auckland. They also outscored the Lions two tries to nil. They didn’t win and Hansen was at pains to stress that they didn’t play well enough to win the series.

He said it wasn’t the All Blacks’s god given right to win every Test and that there were other teams who could also play the game particularly well, especially when four of them combined effectively to make up one team.

Hansen and All Blacks captain Kieran Read were generous in their praise for the Lions coaching staff and players. Not once did they look to blame the referee, the weather conditions or unavailability of the likes of Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams and Dane Coles.

Hansen said that the series was drawn because his team wasn’t good enough. He said it was a reality check to the squad.

I’d suggest the rest of the All Blacks haters should take a pause before gloating about a drawn series because the All Blacks don’t play the best of four teams at the 2019 World Cup.

Hansen’s All Blacks have lost just five times since 2011 and won four Rugby Championships and two successive World Cups. They’ve now drawn a three-Test series against the greatest Lions team in the professional era.

Does that mean their mystique is gone? Former Lions and England coach Clive Woodward was bullish in saying that after the drawn series. It was all too predictable from one who should know better.

The All Blacks are the game’s best because they remember the ones they lose or draw as much as the rest remember the ones they win and draw.

The series was brilliant for the game but I’d suggest the All Blacks will benefit more long term from not losing to the best ever Lions team than they would have in winning the series.

It was in many respects the best outcome for Hansen in his quest to win a third successive World Cup. There will be no arrogance from within the All Blacks or illusion about their own vulnerability, individually or collectively.

The Lions players, who were quick to tell the world they are very much the equal of the All Blacks and matched them blow for blow, don’t play the All Blacks in 2019 as the Lions.

Currently there isn’t an All Blacks opponent (be it England, Ireland, Wales, South Africa or Australia) the equal of the British and Irish Lions.

No team and individual are unbeatable and none is without flaw; the All Blacks included.

Talk of an All Blacks demise, based on one home drawn series against the best of four countries, is as ignorant as it is disrespectful to the class and quality of those opponents in red who held them to a 15-all draw in the series decider in Auckland.

*Mark Keohane writes a Monday Rugby Column for Business Day Newspaper

 

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