International Rugby, Opinions

Rivalry or ridicule?

Renowned New Zealand rugby writer Marc Hinton has rightly asked just how many drubbings must the All Blacks hand out before the Springboks lose their status as this nation’s greatest rugby rival? That point must be awfully close.

Hinton, writing on, described the All Blacks 57-0 shut out as ‘one side shining like a beacon; the other sinking like a stone’.

The All Blacks have long considered the Springboks their greatest rivals. One of the most vivid images of the professional era is of a spent New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick dropping to the turf and thumping it in exhausted celebration after securing the first test series victory in South Africa in 1996.

It was hard earned, brutal, and compelling as a contest. It really meant something because it was so damn difficult.

Victories over the Boks have always represented something special to the All Blacks, although they cover their bases by nominating the Bledisloe Cup as the trophy they most treasure outside the Webb Ellis Cup.

But you can now make a case that the All Blacks-Boks is no longer a rivalry as such. More like an ownership.

The All Blacks have won 14 of their last 16 tests against the South Africans, 10 of their last 11, and their last five on the bounce. They haven’t lost at home to the men in green since 2009 in Hamilton and even in the republic they have won four of their last five.

Does that sound like a genuine rivalry to you? Maybe there is still life in it. But maybe it is on its final legs.

 The Springboks will have more say on that than the All Blacks. New Zealand continue to set the standard in the test game; the onus is on the South Africans to match that level of performance.

The All Blacks have won their last three tests against the South Africans 57-0, 57-15 and 41-13. I say again, does that sound like a rivalry to you?

You can actually make a case that Ireland and England have become the All Blacks’ greatest rivals in the current era. Granted, we’re not talking the best part of 100 years here, but in recent times the English and Irish have presented as much more difficult foes than the Boks.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen is adamant the rivalry is alive and kicking, even if the scoreboard might suggest otherwise.

“I know the effort our guys put in to preparing for South Africa,” he says. “You can feel it. There is a little more sting in it. It would be nice to get that every week. Our guys have a massive respect for them as a rugby nation, and that’s why we prepare so well for it.”

Added All Blacks openside Sam Cane: “There is that genuine fear when we play the Boks that we have to be near the top of our game to get what we want. There is an edge about it. We’re already thinking in three weeks’ time they will be a different beast over there. They will be hurting.”

Look, there is more to a rivalry than just a string of scores. Respect, history, tradition all form part of it. It’s the players that make it a rivalry with their attitude and approach. And it is they who will ultimately end it.

When the All Blacks no longer fear the Boks, this rivalry will be over. They don’t appear to be at that point yet. But they are closer to it today than they were yesterday.

The ball is very much in the Boks court to breathe some life back into this flagging contest. Starting in Cape Town.

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